Peaches, and their close kin nectarines, are one of summertime's greatest glories. These look-alikes share appearances and flavors, but with a small difference. Nectarines have a smooth skin and are slightly smaller. Nectarines are not a cross between a plum and a peach, as some people think. Nectarines are also not considered the "queen" of fruits, as peaches are. And they are not synonymous with the great state of Georgia. Do you ever hear people talk about sweet Georgia nectarines? Didn't think so.
Native to China, peaches have a long and noble history filled with myths and enchantment, for the Chinese believe that peaches confer immortality (one of the Eight Immortals is depicted carrying a peach), and even better, peaches contribute to man's fertility. That is probably why giving a peach branch during the Chinese New Year celebrations symbolizes the bringing of good luck and a big family. From China, peaches made their way to Europe via Persian traders, and made a big impression on ancient Romans, who began the sweet fruit's cultivation. By the mid-sixteenth century, the first peaches arrived in the New World, and thanks to the natives, were carried eventually across the new frontier.
Although peaches grow now in several states, Georgia has claimed the prize for showing off their peaches more dramatically than any other state. Would you have guessed that South Carolina used to rank number one as a peach-producing state, producing more than 40 varieties of peaches? California proudly produces the most peaches. And even New Jersey honors its Jersey peaches. Whether you enjoy Georgian, Californian, Mexican, or Alabaman peaches, these fuzzy orange fruits reach their full flavor profile from late June through August.
When you buy peaches (or nectarines), remember that they fall into one of two different categories: freestone or clingstone, with a third new one, the semi-freestone.
These designations refer to if the fruit flesh either clings to the stone (clingstone) or splits away from it easily (freestone). Whichever type you buy, look for peaches that are round, firm and have a red blush that overlays a rich yellow (or white) skin. Plan to cook and eat your peaches as soon as possible for the juiciest and sweetest tastes of summer. Here are two dessert recipes to get you started.
Serves 8 A peach pie, but in miniature form! You will need large 3-inch-round muffin cups to hold the ingredients. Ingredients:
4 peaches, diced
1 tablespoon almond extract
1/4 cup brown sugar
1/2 cup slivered almonds
1 (8-ounce) container honey-sweetened whipped cream cheese
1 (16.3-ounce) package jumbo refrigerator biscuits Directions:
1. Preheat the oven to 375 degrees F. Combine the peaches, almond extract, sugar, and almonds in a mixing bowl, stirring well. 2. Roll out each precut biscuit to about 5-inches round. Fit the dough into the cup of a muffin tin, repeating until all cups are lined. Spoon the peach filling into each cup. 3. Bake for about 25 minutes, or until the biscuits have puffed up and browned. Cool slightly. Top each tartlet with a dollop of the cream cheese. Serve hot, warm, or at room temperature.
Serves 6 Using the old-fashioned goodness of tapioca, this dessert is reminiscent of childhood treats. Ingredients:
2 cups whole, skim, or soy milk
1/2 cup brown sugar
3 tablespoons instant tapioca
1 egg, beaten
1 teaspoon almond extract
2 peaches, diced
2 nectarines, diced
1/2 cup dried cranberries
About 1 cup toasted walnuts for garnish Directions:
Combine the milk, sugar, tapioca and egg in a saucepan and let it stand for 5 minutes. Cook the pudding according to package directions. Meanwhile, put the peaches, nectarines, and cranberries into a heatproof bowl. When the pudding has thickened, pour the hot mixture over the fruit. Chill until firm. Before serving, garnish with the walnuts. For more peachy recipes, check out these links:
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