Ah, peaches. Despite their all-American image, peaches are not a fruit that is native to American soil. Having travelled a long way to get here, hitching rides as diverse as Columbus's latter voyages and the Colonists' Jamestown forays, they've done pretty well for themselves, becoming one of the three top commercially grown fruit crops in the U.S. (right up there with apples and oranges).
So where did peaches come from? The oldest cultivated fruit, peaches are thought to be native to China. From there, peaches migrated along the Silk Road to Persia, then onward to Greece sometime around 300 B.C. By the first century A.D., Romans were cultivating and exporting the fruit, which they referred to as the Persian apple.
Today, China is the largest producer of peaches globally; Italy comes in second. In the United States, California, Georgia, and South Carolina are major producers, with California producing more than half of U.S. peaches.
Peaches are a good source of vitamins A, B, and C; they contain no fat, cholesterol, or sodium; and a medium peach has only about 40 calories.
These charms notwithstanding, the thing that appeals most to me about fresh peaches is their scent. To me, a fresh, ripe peach is one of the definitive scents of summer (along with sea air, sunblock, the leaves of tomato plants, freshly cut grass, and fried dough).
When peaches appear at my farmstand market, the entire aisle they sit in is perfumed with the evocative smell of my favorite season. One whiff of that seductive summery fragrance and I just can’t pass them by.
As far as eating peaches out of hand, I’ll admit that I’ve never been a big fan of their fuzzy hide - for this reason, I’m more of a nectarine girl. Genetically speaking, there's not a lot of difference between a peach and a nectarine. Contrary to popular belief, a nectarine is not a cross between a peach and a plum. Rather, it's a peach variant with smooth skin. (Bald is beautiful!)
For pies, cobblers, and sorbets, though, nothing beats fresh peaches. Peaches just seem to develop a certain depth of flavor and richness that makes them shine in dessert preparations.
This Fresh Peach Sorbet is a snap to make because you don’t have to peel the peaches first. Leaving the peel on imparts a lovely rosy-orange tint and a nice texture to the sorbet. Go ahead and remove the skins if you wish (if you're up for blanching peaches in the middle of July). The result will be a smoother, pale yellow sorbet.
Fresh Peach Sorbet
- 3/4 cup granulated sugar
- 3/4 cup water
- 1/4 cup light corn syrup
- 6 fresh ripe peaches (about 1 1/2 to 2 pounds), washed, pitted, and sliced
- 3 tablespoons freshly squeezed lemon juice
In a small saucepan, combine sugar, water, and corn syrup. Stir over medium heat until boiling; let boil for 1 minute. Place pan in an ice-water bath or refrigerate to cool. Place sliced peaches in the bowl of a food processor and sprinkle with lemon juice. Pour cooled syrup over peach slices and puree until smooth. Pour pureed peach mixture into ice-cream machine and process according to manufacturer’s directions. Place sorbet in freezer to ripen for at least 3 hours before serving.
Makes about 1 quart.
Recipe Note: If you like, you can sprinkle a pinch of kosher salt over the peaches before pureeing. Some cooks feel this brings up the flavor a bit; others feel it's just not necessary. Don't substitute table salt or sea salt though - kosher salt is actually less salty than these, so it won't be as likely to assert a salty flavor in the end product.
And what, exactly, is a "pinch"? Technically, it's "the amount of something that can be picked up and held in the space between the thumb and the forefinger" (no great revelation there, sorry). But for those of you who like hard-and-fast measures, assuming we have average-size pinchers, it's approximately 1/8 teaspoon.