Friday, October 31, 2014

Experience the joys of peaches

Posted on Sept. 1, 2013 at 1:00 a.m.

Mary Ann Lienhart-Cross

Food & Nutrition

I’ve written about the wonderful experience each summer of standing in the garden and eating a tomato fresh from the vine and having the juice run down your arm. You should have the same experience when it comes to eating peaches.

While most of us can’t pick peaches, we can stand outside in the wonderful fall sun and enjoy the peach, the flavor and all the juice. There is just nothing like a fresh peach eaten out of your hands. Peaches are also excellent preserved for later eating — in pie, cobbler and other desserts.

The sweet, juicy peaches grown today have little resemblance to the earliest peaches, native to China. Until modern horticulturists developed the strains we enjoy today, most peaches were small, fairly sour and certainly fuzzier than modern varieties. Today there are hundreds of varieties. Some have stones that cling to the flesh that are called clingstone varieties; others are freestone.

Some of the recommended varieties for preserving are Redhaven, Redskin, Sunhigh and Triogem. There are always new varieties coming out. Some have white or pale pink flesh; others have yellow flesh. Some have white skins with a pink blush; others have a deep yellow skin with a reddish blush. Some are firm-fleshed varieties designed for canning; others are for eating out of hand. In any case, the peach is one of Americans’ favorite fruits and one of the country’s most important fruit crops.

When selecting peaches, smell them. An appealing fragrance is the best clue to a ripe peach. Look also for fruit that gives slightly to pressure and has a yellow or creamy background color between its blushed areas. Avoid fruit with greenish undertones and fruit that is bruised or very soft. Peaches will keep in the refrigerator crisper for up to two weeks.

Peaches eaten out of hand do not require peeling. In fact, the peach has more flavor with the peel on, it is better for you, and the peel contributes fiber. Most peaches are peeled for use in cooked food, but when making pie or cobbler for your family, you might think about leaving the peel on for the added flavor and fiber. Very ripe peaches are usually easy to peel; others may need to be blanched first. To blanch cut a small X in the rounded end opposite the stem, dip fruit in boiling water for about 30 seconds, then plunge into ice water. The skin will peel away readily.

Peaches oxidize and brown when exposed to air. To slow this down or prevent it rub or sprinkle with lemon juice. A tasty way to preserve peaches is to freeze them. Select peaches that aren’t quite ripe, as freezing will make them a little softer. Instead of freezing in sugar syrup or in dry pack, which is where you mix sugar with the fruit, try fruit juice. I have used orange juice, white grape juice and peach juice. I buy the frozen juice concentrate. Make it according the directions and freeze the peaches in it. I have used the juices singly or combined them, and they made for a delicious frozen peach. A real bonus was having the tasty juice to drink besides the wonderful peaches.

The Purdue University Extension has an excellent publication, “Let’s Preserve Peaches, Apricots, Nectarines CFS-588-W,” which can be found at http://www.extension.purdue.edu/extmedia/CFS/CFS-588-W.pdf.

Mary Ann Lienhart-Cross is county extension director and an extension educator in health human sciences. She can be reached at 17746 C.R. 34, Suite E, Goshen IN 46528-6898; phone 574-533-0554; fax 574-533-0254; or email lienhart@purdue.edu.