Photo © Puntarelle&Co Ltd
In a week of anything but summery weather in the UK I am writing about sun-ripened Peaches. Peaches can be grown in our climate, though not without difficulty. Most are grown in private walled gardens and greenhouses and rarely make it to market. It’s to Southern Europe we look for that necessary period of sun and warmth to produce these sweet-fleshed, juicy flat and round stone-fruits from early summer. Peaches bruise and spoil easily so the less they have to travel the better.
You can judge a ripe peach not by squeezing but by smell. A ripe peach is honeyed and heady as a rose, white-fleshed varieties particularly so. The exception is the sharper Pêche de Vigne, known as the Blood Peach for its distinctly blushed flesh. Once planted in vineyards as a sacrificial fruit – it succumbs to disease before grapes do, thus acting as early warning – the dramatic look of the fruit, and its higher acidity is much liked by some.
A perfectly ripe peach needs nothing to increase its appeal but there are many ways to cook with peaches. Almonds and raspberries go particularly well with peaches, as do herbs like Lemon Verbena and Basil. If you like their flavour but not the fuzzy skin, nectarines are a good substitute but they can be a little sharper. Roast with pork or duck, or pickle and bottle them for later use with cold meats; serve with prosciutto or burrata; halve the fruit, remove the stone, add a little butter and sugar then grill to caramelize; poach under-ripe fruits in sugar syrup or wine and sugar - the skins then slip off easily if you prefer them without but in cooking they will add to the colour of your poaching liquor; make a peach and almond crumble or a classic Peach Melba; or simply drop a slice or two into a glass of everyday red wine, as the French do. The Italians are partial to peach jam and, of course puréed peach with Prosecco makes a Bellini.