No sodium. No cholesterol. Extremely low in fat. High in fiber, vitamin A, vitamin C, and niacin as well being sweet and juicy—what's not to love about a peach? Unless sugar is a concern, they are certainly one of summer's most delightful guilt-free treats, and they are in season locally.
Peaches are said to have originated in Asia Minor/Persia or possibly China. Chinese legend has Hsi Wang Mu (Queen Mother of the West) cultivating the peaches of immortality in a paradise located in the Kunlun Mountains. She has been especially revered by Chinese women on reaching their 50th birthdays.
The Spanish reportedly brought peaches to the New World around 1600. A top grower, the United States produces about a fifth of the world's supply of peaches. Peaches are related to roses, and lots of delicious fruits--such as nectarines, plums, and apricots.
Those Famous Georgia Peaches
A good-looking, well-mannered lady from Georgia is sometimes called a Georgia peach, but the fruit itself can be just as sweet. Peaches were grown on Georgia's St. Simons and Cumberland islands as early as the 16th century* and were first shipped out of the South in the 1850s. After the Civil War, cotton could no longer be grown economically, so peaches became a new cash crop. The most popular varieties of Georgia peaches have changed through time, and currently there are about 40 different types that find their way to market from Georgia.
Want your peaches locally grown? Various kinds of peaches can be found at farmers' markets in July and August, or you can take a trip to one of Virginia's peach orchards. PickYourOwn.org has suggestions for making the most of your visit. Once you have a bushel or two of them, you can certainly enjoy them just as they are, but here are some recipes to try:
Peach ice cream is one of summer's joys. You can make this low fat version calling for frozen peaches anytime. If you'd rather try a luscious, full fat version, Frog Hollow Farm has developed an organic recipe for creamy, Philadelphia-style ice cream.
Come chilly autumn evenings, this hot, sweet salsa will bring a warm summer memory to grilled meat and fish:
7 cups chopped fresh peaches
3 large fresh garden tomatoes
1 & 1/2 cups chopped red onion
3 fresh jalapeno peppers, seeded and finely chopped
1 red bell pepper, seeded and finely chopped
1/2 cup white vinegar
3 cloves garlic, finely chopped
1&1/2 tsp ground cumin
1/4 cup sugar
Blanch tomatoes and peaches; peel and chop them.
Combine all ingredients in large pot. Bring to a boil, and cook 5 minutes, stirring frequently. Ladle into sterilized jars, leaving 1/4 inch headspace. Check the USDA's site for further processing instructions.
Adapted from High Country Orchards' Web site.
The Duchess of Windsor—that infamous American who conquered an English king—shared her love for her homeland's dishes in the 1942 book, Some Favorite Southern Recipes of the Duchess of Windsor. She included instructions for putting up spiced peaches that would make a memorable addition to the holiday table:
7 lbs (about 35) medium-sized peaches
1 pint mild vinegar
5 lbs (11 1/4 cups) sugar
2/3 cup broken cinnamon sticks
Peel peaches and stick into each a blade of mace and 2 whole cloves. Cover peach peelings with sufficient water to give 1 cup of liquid when cooked and drained. Prepare syrup by cooking together the peach syrup (peelings with water), vinegar, sugar, cinnamon and 1/3 cup of whole cloves. Place peaches, about 6 or 8 at a time, into the syrup and cook slowly until tender but not soft. Remove peaches carefully to sterilized jars, cook down syrup until rather thick and fill jars to over-flowing. Divide the spices evenly among the jars for a dark, spicy product, or omit for a milder, lighter colored one. Seal at once. Approximate yield: 7 pint jars.
If you love cooking with fresh fruits, try these books from the Central Rappahannock Regional Library:
Beans, Greens, and Sweet Georgia Peaches: The Southern Way of Cooking Fruits and Vegetables by Damon Lee Fowler
"...offers recipes for transforming Vidalia onions, sun-ripened tomatoes, field peas, butterbeans, okra, Georgia peaches, plump figs, watermelons, key limes, and Florida citrus into the fruit and vegetable glories of the Southern table." These rich, radiant and mainly traditional recipes may surprise those who are accustomed to heavy Southern dinner fare.
The Great American Pie Book: Recipes for the Sweet and the Savory from Chicken Potpie to Peach Blueberry by Judith Choate
Pastry lovers will enjoy this book which has comfort foods that appear to be a cut above ordinary, whilst still employing very practical methods.
Well-preserved: A Jam Making Hymnal by Joan Hassel
Several delightful peach recipes (peach jam with brandy, peach ginger marmalade, peach and cranberry jam, and raspberry peach jam) and dozens of others for favorite fruits and preserves throughout the year from a small jam manufacturer in New England.