“Do I dare to eat a peach?”
Well, with apologies to T. S. Eliot, you bet I do — especially in August, when our very own, local Niagara peninsula peaches are at their sweet and succulent and juicy best. Of course, the peach is good canned, all year round, as well, but it’s only for this short period — I’d say from the start of August to mid September — that I really will wash and peel and revel in the sticky, slurpy experience of a warm, freshly picked fruit.
Peaches are so versatile. Good as a garnish with pork dishes, great just sliced with cream or a little Amaretto and the base of all sorts of elaborate and scrumptious desserts. And they are so aesthetically pleasing. According to British food writer Jane Grigson, Renoir himself counselled young artists who wanted to paint women’s breasts the way that he did, to first practice painting perfect peaches. In her compendium “The Fruit Book” Grigson goes on to tell of her unsuccessful quest throughout France for the perfect peach (albeit for eating, not for painting). When she finds that the traditionally renowned peach orchards in Montorgueil are a thing of the past, she comes to the impertinent and rather dubious conclusion that the French are more careless with their history than the British.
Anyway, as Ontarians, we do properly revere our peaches, even holding a weekend long festival to celebrate their perfection. This year, apparently, is going to be one of the best for this tender fruit: According to a report in the Niagara Falls Review, peach growers are more than pleased with the 2013 harvest, so expect to find exceptional bounty at the 46th anniversary of the Winona Peach Festival(http://www.winonapeach.com). The Festival will be held from Friday, August 23rd (opening 5 p.m.) to Sunday, August 25th in Winona Park. Admission is free, along with parking, and there is a shuttle service ($5 per person) from Eastgate Square. This is a sprawling and rambunctious festival — there are arts and crafts to buy from local artisans, music, a food court, a midway and, of course, peaches in all of their many guises. It’s family fun and a joyous way to wrap up the summer.
If you are buying peaches right now, there is a great guide to the different varieties on the Foodland Ontario website.(http://www.foodland.gov.on.cc/english/fruits/peaches) But really, the only thing you need to know is that there are three main types: clingstone, in which the flesh clings firmly to the pit — these are the peaches that make their way into jams and jellies and cans; freestone — the flesh comes away from the pit making these the perfect peaches for eating out of hand; and semi freestone — which obviously (duh?) falls somewhere in between. In addition, you may choose either yellow-fleshed or white-fleshed peaches. The yellow-fleshed are sweet and slightly tangy. The white are intensely sweet with lower acidity levels. I do recall the first time that I ate “white” peaches; it was many years ago in Italy and the fruit was totally swoon-worthy. Now, the white peaches are widely available in Canada and, actually, I think I like the yellow ones even better. What you do have to check out in peaches is the firmness quotient; the fruit should be relatively firm, but not hard. A perfectly ripe peach has just a sign of “give” to its flesh but isn’t quite soft because if they are too hard and unyielding they will never ripen. And if you can unobtrusively sniff the fruit, you can tell a lot from the delicate aroma which should be subtly — well — peachy.
The best way to eat a peach is eagerly, hanging over the sink, where you can let the juice dribble over your chin and run down your arm. But there also are so many well known, very sophisticated recipes for peaches — from the famed Harry’s Bar Bellini, a cocktail made from Prosecco and peach purée, to peach Melba, the opulent combination of peaches and raspberry sauce created by the French chef Escoffier to honour the Australian soprano Nellie Melba. I’ll leave you with a variation on this elegant dessert, a recipe that was supposedly a favourite of Princess Di.
Peaches Princess of Wales
adapted from Lucy Waverman’s “Seasonal Canadian Cookbook”
3 tbsp. raspberry jam
3 tbsp. red currant jelly
3 tbsp. apricot jam
1/4 cup Amaretto
6 peaches, peeled and sliced
4 cups vanilla ice cream
1 cup toasted slivered almonds
1) Combine the jams in a large frying pan. Cook on low heat until they are liquefied.
2) Pour in the Amaretto. Bring to a boil, add the peaches and stir together until the peaches are warmed through.
3) Place the ice cream on serving plates, top with the peaches, some sauce and some toasted almonds.
Easy to make. Delightful to eat. What more can I say?