Sunday, August 15, 2010

Millions of Peaches


Can one have too many peaches? While I may claim to be more veggie than fruit the rest of the year, I definitely can survive on fruit alone during the summer months. What with the glut of berries, tomatoes, and stone fruits, who needs veggies? (Okay, you don't need to answer that question, I know I could not live without  vegetables.)

 
But peaches are definitely manna from heaven: the tender, fuzzy skin gives way to the softest, sweetest, juiciest flesh ever! In a good year, I could sit outside with a basket of Ontario peaches, and eat until I am sticky from head to toe (that seems to be a recurring image of my summer eating, actually...) Literally. I no longer attempt these sultry feats (feasts!), as I have no ready access to outdoor water, but if you have kids, forget about fluorescent-hued ice-pops: stick a few ripe peaches, nectarines and plums in the fridge and let them gorge on these nuggets of summer. (While you're at it, pre-slice some melons -Quebec watermelons and cantaloupes are just lovely this year- and leave them in the fridge.) Just make sure they're wearing their bathing suits and are near a hose!

Peaches are either of the yellow or white persuasion. Both are nice, but my personal weakness is for yellow free-stone peaches: a perfectly ripe white peach is extremely sweet, juicy like no other with slightly floral undertones, but a yellow peach just tastes more 'peachy' with its tang of tartness. You can occasionally find Asian peaches in Chinatown. Besides the fact that they are definitely not locally produced, these peaches are rather different from Western peaches: for one thing, they are huge, about the size of a large orange or medium grapefruit. They are usually of the white variety, which is fine if that is what you are seeking. However, they are also extremely fuzzy: they are the only peaches I've ever met that needed to be peeled.

Asian peaches are relatively easy to peel. Their skin is so thick that all one needs to do is take a knife to it as if it were an orange. However, if you prefer Western peaches without the skin, you need to plan ahead. Bring a large pot of water to boil. In the meantime, score the peaches with the tip of a sharp knife, making an X. You needn't go deep, 1 mm (1/16") is more than enough. Prepare a bowl of ice water, and leave it close to the stove. When the pot of water comes to a rumbling boil, scald the scored peaches one at a time for about 15 seconds. Plunge them in the ice bath. Once the peaches are fully cooled, the peel should slip off easily.

Peeling peaches seems like more trouble than it's worth, though I suppose some desserts may be more enjoyable without the peach fuzz. For everything else, peaches in their blushing garment are simply divine. Peaches are fragile fruits, bruising easily when ripe, so buy them on the firm side (just make sure their shoulders are golden and not green), and leave them to ripen on the counter at home. Enjoy the summery dollops as they reach their peak. 

Peaches are so perfect in their natural state  -the same can be said of any perfectly ripe fruit, really- that anything you can do to them seems like superfluous overkill. But sometimes, one's basket of peaches ripens more quickly than one can eat them, or one might tire of them before one sees the bottom of the batch. Hence the need for a few fall-back recipes... Twenty years ago, I stayed at a quaint bed and breakfast in Calgary, and had the most splendid dish of Baked Peaches and Cream for breakfast. I remember asking for the recipe, but I am sorry to say that I have since lost it. The following recipe is just as scrumptious, and very easy to make.


Honey Roasted Peaches
Serves 2, or 1 very selfish cook

2-3 peaches, freestones will make your life easier
4 Tbs / 60ml honey
water or white wine for deglazing
fresh herbs of your choice (basil, lemon thyme, lavender, rosemary...)

Cut peaches in half along their seam. Remove the pit and set aside.
In a hot pan, heat the honey until it bubbles. Keep a close eye on the honey, as it can burn easily. 
If you are using a dark-coloured pan, you will have a hard time watching the honey, but follow your nose! It always knows! Sniff the honey at regular intervals: you might not be able to see when honey starts to caramelize, but your nose will. When you get a whiff of toasted bread or nuts, gently place the peach halves in the caramel, cut side down.
The honey will splutter and splatter so be careful not to burn yourself, lower the heat to medium, and let the peaches cook for a minute or two.
When the skin starts to curl up at the edges, add a splash of water or white wine to deglaze the pan.
Cover the pan, turn the heat to medium-low, and let the peaches roast until their peels completely curl up and slip off. If the sauce reduces before the peaches are ready, add another splash of water or wine.
Add herbs to the pan, swirl around.
Check the sauce's consistency, it should have thickened back to its original density.
Plate the peach halves, and drizzle with the sauce.
Serve as is, with a dollop of plain yoghurt, a scoop of vanilla ice cream, shortbread cookies or crumbs, or all of the above.


This exquisite dessert can be served warm or cold; it keeps well in the fridge, and will travel comfortably for a picnic. Make it extra special with a splash of bubbly added at the last minute for a fizzy reminder of the fuzzy robe... If you manage to save some of the sauce: it can be put to all sorts of uses, but the most delectable would be to pour a spoonful in a glass of chilled white (bubbly!) wine for a peachy-honey kir. The honey will have taken on the rosy flush of the peach skins, and will transmit its lovely hue to your drink.


A word on honey: you might have noticed recent news mentioning the plight of  the honey bee. Wild and domestic bees are crucial for the pollination of over 70% of our food crops. Yet bees are disappearing around the world. While the debate on what are the main causes for colony collapse disorder rages on, sprawling monocultures, widespread use of pesticides, and loss of habitat are being singled out as the principle factors.

As city dwellers - I am assuming that most Quest followers live in urban or sub-urban areas- we often feel divorced from our food sources, but we cannot ignore the bees' misfortune. I am not expecting you to set up bee hives in your backyard (although there are increasingly more cities opening up to urban beekeepers, including Montreal), but there is much we can do to sustain our local bees. Swaths of green grass are symbols of Suburbia, but they are the equivalent of vast deserts for bees: sow flowering plants in your lawn, like clover, vetch, English daisies and alfalfa to provide bees with a diverse diet. If you have a garden, flowers are essential, as is a protected (hidden) messy area: wild bees do not build hives like the honeybee, they nest in hollow branches or in the ground. During long dry spells, provide bees (other insects and birds too) with shallow dishes of water: bees get thirsty too! And never use pesticides: a well-balanced (or an unbalanced one like mine) organic garden will sustain a beautifully diverse community that evens itself out.

Most importantly, support local bee keepers. Like any other agricultural enterprise, beekeeping is hard work and deserves every penny it asks for its production. Imported honey can be up to half the price of local honey, but local honey ensures that local crops are pollinated and that local beekeepers stay in business. By buying local honey, you will also witness the passing of the seasons, as the flavour of honey changes throughout the year.

Bon app'!


P.S. I keep forgetting to mention that summer's wild mushrooms are popping up everywhere. I am assuming from the recent heat and dry weather in British Colombia, that B.C.'s mushroom will be delayed, but the rain was evenly spaced out in the East, and the chanterelles (girolles) in Quebec have been abundant and of a good size. With a little luck , they'll be around for another week.

P.P.S. I'm always writing about the beautiful summer we are experiencing in Quebec and Ontario because it's what I see first hand, but I know that the weather has not been as generous in other parts of Canada. I do want this blog to encompass the whole of Canada  -North America, actually- so if you notice any discrepancy between what I write about and what is happening in your area, don't hesitate to leave me a comment: I'd love to know what is cropping up in your neck of the woods!
For example, Quebec and Ontario garlic have been harvested and are in the process of being cured for storage, but out in Calgary, garlic scapes are still available.



1 comment:

  1. what a lovely peach rhapsody. looks and sounds delectable.

    ReplyDelete

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