One of the best things to arrive in markets in August are fresh, juicy golden peaches! The peach (Prunus persica) is a deciduous tree native to the region of Northwest China between the Tarim Basin and the north slopes of the Kunlun Mountains, where it was first domesticated and cultivated. It bears an edible juicy fruit called a peach or a nectarine.
Both the peach and the nectarine are the same species; the obvious difference is that the peach is a fuzzy fruit and the nectarine is not. Both fruits are part of the genus Prunus which includes cherries, apricots, almonds, plums and roses. China produces a whopping 58% of the world’s peaches and nectarines! Peaches and nectarines can be found growing in North American orchards in California, South Carolina, Georgia, New Jersey, British Columbia and Ontario.
There are two varieties of peaches that we normally see in stores in the western world: clingstone and freestone peaches. The clingstone are the peaches whose fruit clings to the pit, where the freestone peaches have a pit that comes out relatively cleanly from the fruit. When you see cans labeled “cling peaches,” they are clingstone. Peaches and nectarines both tend to be a reddish orange color and round. However, some peaches, which may be known as Saturn peaches or donut peaches, are squashed down and almost flat.
When I was young, we spent a lot of time traveling in the summer. Growing up in Alberta, some of those trips were to British Columbia. We made many road trips to the Okanagan region to pick up fresh fruit, which we would then take home, my mom would preserve much of them into jars, pies, or freezer containers for us to enjoy throughout the winter months.
The Okanagan used to be home to many u-pick orchards, which were always a treat to us. I remember being about 10 years old and climbing the rickety wooden orchard ladders to reach up and pick a nice firm, fresh juicy peach from the trees on a hot August day. The fun wasn’t in the picking, but in being able to take that nice piece of fruit and bite into it, getting peach juice down my hands, arms and all over the front of my shirt (to my mother’s chagrin, I might add!). As we got older and traveled less, we still went to our local farmers’ markets and picked up fresh fruit off the B.C. fruit trucks, and we still took them home, ate our fill and then made them into fantastic things to enjoy later.
Peaches are very versatile. Like most fruit ,you can preserve them, make them into jams, jellies, pies, cobblers and a multitude of other delicious items. I am going to share but a few of these fantastically delicious items with you as I get ready to use up the cases of peaches I have on hand!
Let’s start easy with a delicious dessert and side dish for your BBQ as you wind down the summer months. Grilled peaches make a fantastic accompaniment to chicken, pork or beef dishes, but let’s not forget that they are a great complement to salmon as well. Grilling peaches brings out their sugars, making them even sweeter, and that extra sweetness works well against bitter, sour and salty flavors.
Grilled Peaches with Brown Sugar Glaze
6 to 8 peaches, pitted and halved
¼ cup brown sugar
1-2 teaspoons cinnamon
2 tablespoons butter, melted
Combine brown sugar and cinnamon in small bowl. Set aside.
Brush peaches with melted butter and grill over high heat, cut side down, for about 3 minutes, or just until fruit begins to soften and grill marks appear. Flip peaches and sprinkle with cinnamon/brown sugar mixture. Turn heat to medium and, with the lid up, let the brown sugar mixture melt forming a sugary glaze. Remove from heat and serve with a big scoop of vanilla ice cream, frozen yogurt, whipped cream or Greek yogurt.
Now let’s put a little flare on our peaches and give them a bit of a bite. Not only is it quick to make, peach salsa makes a great snack with tortilla chips and an excellent side to grilled chicken, pork or fish. The sweetness of peaches is a great foil to the peppery snap of jalapeno peppers and the bright green flavor of cilantro.
1 pound tomatoes, seeded and chopped
1 bell pepper, seeded and diced (I like to use green or purple for a burst of color)
2 jalapenos, finely diced, seeds removed for less heat
1 medium onion, finely diced
1.5 pounds of peaches, peeled and diced (you can leave the peel on)
2 tablespoons lime juice
1 bunch of cilantro or parsley, chopped
1 ½ teaspoons salt, or to taste (careful with the salt as it will make the salsa runny)
¼ teaspoon pepper
Mix all ingredients into a large bowl. Cover and let sit for about an hour in the fridge for the flavors to meld together before serving. Makes enough for 6 to 8 people. Will keep in the fridge for about a week.
Peach pie is always a nice treat, but there are times when you just need a crumble. Our family builds a peach crisp instead of a pie a lot of the time; it is quick and easy to put together and of course there are no fatty crusts involved. Heart-healthy oats add a boost of nutrients and extra fiber to what is otherwise a decadent dessert!
Grandma’s Peach Crumble Recipe
6 cups peaches, sliced in bite-size chunks
1 cup rolled oats
1 cup brown sugar
¾ cup butter, softened
¾ cup flour
2 teaspoons cinnamon
¼ cup granulated sugar
Preheat oven to 350 degrees F.
In a bowl, sprinkle cinnamon and granulated sugar on the peaches and toss to coat. Pour into 9 x 13 or 11 x 7 baking pan. In the same bowl you mixed the peaches in, combine oats, flour, brown sugar and butter and mix until crumbly. Sprinkle the crumbled oat mixture evenly over the peaches and bake in oven until crispy and the peaches are tender, about 45-50 minutes. Let stand at least 30 minutes to cool before serving warm with a nice big scoop of vanilla ice cream.
The waiting 30 minutes never happened in Grandma’s house, because after waiting almost an hour for this delicious dessert and smelling it in the oven, we couldn’t resist! Leftovers make a great breakfast the next day.
From dessert and dinner to drinks on the patio! Keeping the peach theme going, let’s kick this up a notch and add a nice, fresh peach margarita for the grownups. You can omit the tequila for a virgin peach slush for the kids.
Fresh Peach Margarita (6 servings)
3 cups fresh peach slices or chunks
4 tablespoons honey
1 cup lime juice, fresh
2 cups sparkling water (only if you’re not making the slushy type)
2 cups tequila
Get out your blender! Combine the peaches, honey, lime juice and tequila in the blender and blend until smooth. Now you can toss the ice into the blender and blend it in as well, making a slushy type margarita, or simply pour over ice in a glass and then add some sparkling water. Serve with a nice fresh slice of peach. Garnish with fresh herbs like rosemary, mint or thyme if desired.
Storing peaches for later use is always an excellent option, and easier than most people think. There are two traditional methods I grew up with: peaches canned in a simple syrup or frozen. Both keep well but have different uses.
Canned peaches in a simple syrup allow you to put them on a shelf and forget them for a few months. On cold winter days you can pop the lid and still have a taste of summer with little effort. They are great on cakes or ice cream, but even better just on their own. So if you’re one to can, or even if you never have, consider canning peaches – they’re a great option for first-timers.
Freezing is by far the quickest way to preserve this wonderful fruit; simply slice peaches in half, remove the pit and either slice into smaller chunks or freeze as peach halves. I like to slice mine smaller so that I can grab a handful for smoothies or milkshakes later on. Simply slice up your peaches, lay them out on a large baking sheet lined with parchment and freeze them flat overnight. The next day, package into freezer bags, suck out as much air as possible and freeze. By freezing them on a baking sheet before packaging them, you keep them apart, which eliminates clumping when you pop them in the bags.
Now if you want a non-traditional method and you own a food dehydrator, you can always dehydrate your extra peaches. Simply follow the manufacturer’s directions for your dehydrator.
No matter what you choose to do with your peaches, they are a very versatile fruit! Have fun with them and enjoy that little taste of summer as long as you can.
Lila Roth is an Alberta native who trained as a chef. She works at FirstService Residential in Calgary.