Henri takes a bite out his favorite summer fruit
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., peaches migrated west with traders through the Mideast, where the Romans discovered them and introduced malum persicum, 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, California and the Southern states, especially Georgia (of course) and South Carolina, lead the United States in peach production, and the fruit is also grown commercially in New Jersey 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 Chico State’s University Farm (starting the first or second week in August; call 898-6343 for exact dates) and pick your own. The orchards will be open to the public weekdays, 7 a.m.-noon, and cost is $1 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 farm’s “season” is starting late this year, and will probably run only two weeks, depending on how many people come out and how fast the peaches get picked.
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 a 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.
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
Combine peaches, chives and brown sugar, toss gently to coat. Heat a nonstick skillet over medium-high heat. Evenly divide peach mixture and cheese and between four tortillas, and spread evenly over half of each, then fold in half. Coat pan with cooking spray. Place two 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.