Love is in the air: peaches are here, and all is right with the world. Yes, my sunglasses are rose- tinted, why do you ask?
I've been on the road, taking my show with me. First NYC, then Portland and most recently, Chicago. It's been fun, educational, hot, and delicious, but I've missed being home. Home is where the peaches are. Home is where I know the season's signage at my local farmers' market is. I wait and pine for strawberries, cherries soon follow, and after cherries, O Glorious stone fruit arrives, bang! a cornucopia drops out of the sky and lands on my head! It's fast. It's furious. And no one can keep up. Chefs and pastry chefs change menus daily, attempting to think of newfangled dishes to highlight summer's overwhelming, non-stop conveyor belt of tree fruit to farm, to market. It's all about pitting and prepping and ripening, and those of us who really care, trying to keep our fruit out of walk-ins.
We want our diners to get a taste of what we felt when scooping up the first apricots, felt their soft downy skin and licked our chins attempting to keep every last drop of apricot nectar, spilling out like the well which Micky and the sinister brooms let loose in the night.
This past weekend I had the extraordinary pleasure of working for my favorite peach farmer, Carl Rosato of Woodleaf Farm. On Saturday and Sunday I joined an exceptional crew to sell August's first Cassie peaches, pears, a few undercover Pink Pearl Apples (!!!), tiny sweet green grapes, red pears, mixed figs, white peaches, a dozen or so nectarines and Suncrest peaches.
Cassie peaches, in my humble opinion, are a reason for living.
While working at the markets this weekend I gave out a lot of peach advice. Peach advice for ripening, baking, storing, freezing, jamming, eating, and handling. I received a funny email, in fact, from my friend Guy today,
"That was cool running in to you yesterday, selling peaches. Can't imagine what the customers though when they asked, 'Do you have any good ideas what to do with them?' AHAHHAHAH."
A fruit-inspired pastry chef could not be happier having a job wherein he was surrounded by exquisite fruit all the day long. Fruit is an exciting field of study because not all fruit is created equal. One must know the inner workings of the family of fruit when one approaches a new branch.
Some fruit must always be picked unripe from the tree, the best example being pears. Certain fruits will continue to ripen off the tree, two examples are pineapples, and most stone fruit. There are cranky fruits who do not like to be picked with a machine, cherries, for example. And there are laid back fruits which can go either way, they're easy, like oranges or walnuts.
Peaches will ripen off the tree, on your counter, if you so wish. A good farmer will pick fruit right at the moment where she/he can get it to market looking alright and then allow the eater to ripen it a bit more to get it where it's desired. Many fruits will get softer but not sweeter if picked too early; mangoes are a great example of a fruit whose perfume is stolen when picked green or green-ish.
This weekend, in the midst of excitedly talking a mile-a-minute about peaches, I heard some great peach advice from customers. My favorite tidbit came from a fellow at the San Rafael market in Marin named Patrick. It made me stop dead in my tracks and so I wanted to share it with y'all.
What works for me, and so I share it with others is this: place peaches shoulder side down (aka "stem end"), on a flat surface, at room temperature, just until there's a bit of give under the skin, then refrigerate or eat.
But Patrick had a brilliant idea. Refrigerate peaches/stone fruit all at once and take out, placing on counter (or plate) as I've described, a few days before eating. Refrigerating fruit at home, (as opposed to the massive cold storage facilities in the "produce stream" wherein "refrigerators" are the size of private airplane hangers and temperatures are kept between 30-34F), means the fruit's ripening process is slowed down, but not stopped. With Patrick's method you don't have a lot of really ripe fruit in the fridge at once. And, also, you horde a some power over the ripening process, therefore giving yourself more time to relax, find recipes you love, and do with that fruit what you want without the pressure of doing that right now!
Patrick's method also allows you to buy a little more fruit than you might need or want to consume in one day or week. (Which of course makes the farmers happy.)
Every peach is a snowflake. Every varietal is different, every farm growing a particular varietal grows them differently. Every soil and location and method will produce a different peach. Every tree on in that orchard growing that peach will ripen and concentrate its sugars and acids differently. Depending on how much of one kind a farmer has, and which market they're selling them at, will determine or fetch a different price. And every mouth eating that peach like a snowflake will react to it differently.
We all know at what point exactly we like to eat a banana. Even within one family each member will like a slightly more or less green specimen.
My Peach Advice? Jot down the names and details of the peaches and the farmers with whom you interacted with this year so that next year you will leap at the chance to buy your favorites, have mouth notes from which to comparison shop/eat, and ripen gently and slowly the fruit you choose to buy.
And if you see me selling peaches, please stop by and say hello, I'd love to expound further, or just introduce you to my favorite fruit!