Ain’t that a peach
For Henri’s favorite fruit, the pie’s not the limit
With another California summer building to a bountiful climax, the local farmers markets have been absolutely stunning: great tables of gorgeous tomatoes (finally!), huge red onions, succulent eggplant, exotic Asian beans, pungent basil, and Henri’s favorite fruit, peaches.
Eaten straight from the stone or chilled and sliced and served in a bowl with just a dash of powdered sugar—and maybe a splash of Sauvignon blanc or even Cognac—there’s nothing better than sweet, sticky, juicy fresh peaches.
Native to China, and documented there as early as the 10th century B.C.E., peaches migrated west with traders through the Mideast, where the Romans discovered them and introduced persicum malum, or Persian apples, to much of the empire. Spanish explorers brought peaches to the New World, and Jefferson planted them at Monticello. The peach came west across North America with Native Americans and mid-19th-century gold seekers, who dried them and packed them for the long overland journey. Today, the Southern states, including Georgia (of course), lead the U.S. in peach production, and in addition to California, they are also grown commercially in Michigan and Colorado, among other states.
With hundreds of varieties, peaches are generally divided into two categories: clingstone and freestone, depending on whether the flesh sticks to the stone or not. Recently, growers have begun developing hybrids, called “semi-freestone.”
North State peach aficionados are especially lucky. Not only are the farmers markets offering wide varieties of excellent fresh peaches at very reasonable prices, but you can also drive out to the Chico State Farm and pick your own freestone peaches.
Beginning Aug. 11, the orchards have been open to the public weekdays 7 a.m. to 1 p.m. for peach-picking. Cost is 75 cents per pound, and although the farm provides buckets for picking, you need to bring your own boxes or other containers to bring the peaches home in. The “season” typically runs two to three weeks, depending on how many people come out and how fast the peaches get picked. (For more information, phone the farm at 898-6343.)
Of course, the classic peach dishes include desserts such as cobblers and pies, but the fruit is actually quite versatile, and with a little imagination, you can use peaches in a wide range of interesting and delicious dishes and concoctions, including salsas and chutneys, grilled peaches, and baked (and stuffed) peaches. They also make a sweet addition to cocktails such as martinis and daiquiris.
Here is recipe for delicious peach and Brie quesadillas, from local caterer and cooking instructor Shelley Anderson.
Peach and Brie Quesadillas
Honey-lime dipping sauce: Combine 2 tablespoons honey, 2 teaspoons fresh lime juice and 1/2 teaspoon minced lime peel.
Quesadillas: 1 cup thinly sliced, peeled, firm, ripe peaches (about 2 large) 1 tablespoon chopped fresh chives 1 teaspoon brown sugar 3 ounces Brie cheese, thinly sliced 4 flour tortillas Cooking spray
Combine peaches, chives and sugar, toss gently to coat. Heat a nonstick skillet over medium-high heat. Arrange 1/4 of cheese and 1/4 of peach mixture over half of each tortilla and fold in half. Coat pan with cooking spray. Place 2 quesadillas in pan, cook 2 minutes on each side or until tortillas are lightly browned and crisp. Remove from pan and keep warm while repeating procedure with remaining quesadillas. Cut each into thirds and serve with honey-lime sauce.
In other news: Chico chef extraordinaire and local slow-food/sustainability advocate Richie Hirshen has taken a job as executive chef at Back to Earth Organic Catering in Emeryville, Calif., although he plans to return frequently to Chico to shop at the local farmers markets and whip up meals for friends and customers.
Check out Edible Shasta-Butte Magazine’s summer edition, in which you’ll find an article by Hirshen about grilling vegetables.
Finally, in response to Henri’s recent column about meat markets, reader Beverly Heselton writes, “Oroville’s best butcher shop/meat market is the Foothill Meat Co. (3311 Foothill Blvd.). The superb selection rivals any Bay Area specialty meat market. How could Henri have overlooked it?”