Peaches: Not Ready for Prime Time

Peach season is (almost here) and I am chomping at the bit to sink my near-perfect set of choppers (thanks, Dad*) into my first ripe one. This morning, I even eyed an old t-shirt I thought would be perfect to wear for the occasion, since I fully intend to let the juice dribble down my forearm and wipe it on my chest.

It's a sensory thing, you know.

Over the weekend, I found myself at the Sebastopol farmer's market with some old friends. As I was dragged along by my goddaughter, who was intent on spending her allotted dollar on honey sticks (one for her, one for mommy, and one for me *sniff*), the pile of white peaches at the adjoining stall caught my eye.

I needed to have them, and I needed to have them immediately. Sadly, they were hard as bocce balls, but they looked so beautiful that I bought two pounds of the little dears and stuffed them into my bag, hoping that they might somehow become perfectly ripe when I pulled them out later.

Of course, they didn't.

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When I returned home, I set them gingerly in a bowl and stared at them a moment in the seemingly endless and confusing twilight of early summer. I rested my chin on the cool edge of my granite counter and focused my eyes on my treasure. I smiled at them, I tilted my head a bit to see them at a differing and possibly more flattering angle. These were photogenic peaches. I remained in that position for some time until I remembered hearing somewhere that a watched peach never ripens or something to that effect. Frustrated, I called out to them:

"Hurry up and ripen, peaches, for I'll most likely eat you in the morning."

If you didn't know already, I live alone. You can say whatever you want to produce when there is no one else there to bother you or threaten to move out if he sees you talking to things on the kitchen counter. And the best thing is that you can do it in an accent. I chose Kiwi, but that is another fruit for another time.

Unfortunately for me, these were stubborn peaches. They were simply not ready to give it up for me. I wanted to write about peaches, damn it. I had a deadline to meet. So I did what anyone in a rush to eat stone fruit would do.

I hastened their untimely death. I decided to poach them.

To purists, I imagine poaching a peach might seem like celebrating the 4th of July on the 30th of June. If you just hold tight and go about your business, the proper time will come.

If you're as impatient as I am however, poaching is still a wonderful way to treat a peach-- especially a stubborn one.

White Peaches in Ginger-Vanilla Syrup

I've always been a ginger fan-- it's a little bit zingy, a little hot, and it adds a certain "oomph" to anything it touches. Of course, there's something to be said for vanilla, too-- it's homey, approachable, familiar. I sometimes like to give them equal time.

Now, if I can only find just the right Mrs. Howell ingredient, I'd be all set.

Serves 4

Ingredients:

1 1/2 cups cold water

1 cup white wine (if anything, this is the Mrs. Howell touch)

3/4 cup sugar

2 tablespoons honey (or, if you happen to have a honey stick left over, drop that in.)

A three inch piece of ginger (not capitalized because I intend for you to use ginger root and not a piece of aging flesh from a still-alive actress. I do not advocate such things on this blog.), peeled and sliced.

1 vanilla bean, sliced lengthwise

4 under-ripe white peaches, skin on and cut in half. (If the pit remains stubbornly in one half of your peach, remove it with a melon baller-- works like a charm.)

Preparation:

1. Combine all ingredients except the peaches in a heavy-bottomed, medium saucepan or dutch oven. Bring to a boil, making sure that the sugar and honey have dissolved. Remove from heat, remove vanilla bean, and scrape the seeds from it. Return the battered bean to the pot as well as the emancipated seeds. Return pot to the stove and bring contents to a simmer. Let it do its thing for about 5 minutes.

2. Add peaches to the simmering liquid, cut side down. Gently simmer in this manner for 8 minutes, then flip them over and give them another 8 minutes. The time needed for poaching is directly related to the ripeness and size of your peaches, so yours might need a little more or less. The peaches are fully poached when they are easily pierced with a gentle poke of a knife's tip.

3. When peaches are ready, remove them with a slotted spoon to a bowl or baking pan wide enough to accommodate them all in a single layer. Let them cool slightly and then remove their skins. Since this particular post is about my impatience with the fruit, I should caution you to exercise a little bit of restraint and wait for them to cool sufficiently. It's unpleasant to burn one's fingers with hot syrup-soaked hot peaches. Keep the liquid on the heat.

4. When the remaining poaching liquid has reduced by half, strain out the ginger and vanilla bean and pour the hot syrup over the peaches. And wear shoes.

5. Let cool a bit, cover, and place in the refrigerator to chill out. Of course, you may or may not have the patience to do this either, but it's much, much better this way. Trust me.

6. To serve, eat the peach halves by scooping them out with your fingers and pop them into your mouth, one by one, being careful to let the syrup run down your hands. Wipe hands on the front of an old t-shirt you "happen" to be wearing. When you reach the point where you suddenly feel all hollow inside because you couldn't wait for the real thing, place two peach halves in a serving dish, top with vanilla ice cream, and drizzle on as much of the syrup as you like.

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* Father, if you didn't know, is a dentist. Thank G-d.

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