mamster's grub shack - Peaches

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Millions of Peaches
by Matthew Amster-Burton

[PEACH]I fell deeply and hopelessly in love last week.

My wife didn't mind. You see, I fell in love with a fresh, ripe peach. Several of them, in fact. If you've never had a ripe peach, you've never had a peach. Fear not, because I'm about to give you a full report and make you jealous enough to hotfoot it down to your local produce department, seize the manager by the lapels, and ask him how he sleeps at night selling those greenish baseballs he calls peaches.

A ripe peach is sweeter than candy. It's the juiciest fruit in the pantheon. One paper towel is not enough when you're eating a ripe peach. Eat it over a bowl so you can save the juice that dribbles from your greedy maw and slurp it up when you've finished with the peach proper. No part of the peach is inedible except the pit, which makes it one of the most efficient foods available.

I found my first-ever fresh peach at the Queen Anne Thriftway. Their Peach-o-Rama celebration began earlier this month with shipments from Pence and Frog Hollow Farms. (Admiral Thriftway is also taking part.) The Frog Hollow organic peaches have perfectly succulent flesh but are marred by a thick, slightly bitter skin. The Pence is the platonic ideal to which every peach aspires. The Pence peaches sold out quickly, but I am told they'll be restocking a different variety from the Pence farm soon.

Contrary to myth, a ripe peach is not what you get when you buy an unripe peach and put it in a paper bag on your kitchen counter for a week. This is sheer propaganda. The texture of a peach may improve in your kitchen, but unless the branch of a healthy peach tree extends through your kitchen window, the flavor of a peach never will. (If a peach tree is growing through your kitchen window, please contact me immediately with directions to your house.) Peaches are meant to be ripened on the tree. Unfortunately for us, ripe peaches present a problem for those whose greed overwhelms their love of fresh fruit. Harvesting green, rock-hard peaches saves the farmer money and makes the fruit easier to transport.

By the way, the paper bag is no place to store fresh peaches. They're already soft and ready to eat. The best place to store fresh peaches is in a fruit hammock, an ingenious device that fresh fruit loves to lounge in. Come to think of it, a real hammock would be a pretty good place to eat peaches, although you'll dribble peach juice all over yourself. Consider it a free trip to the spa; I'm sure they offer some sort of peach essence treatment.

While we're puncturing local folklore, sorry, Presidents, but peaches do not come from a can. Before they are put there by a man, they are cooked and made to swim in sugar syrup, a fate that should have the cruelty-to-plants set bawling. I like a canned peach once in a while, especially ice-cold, but I don't pretend it's a real peach any more than I pretend a Chilito is an authentic Mexican delicacy.

Like wine and its grapes, peaches are rated for sweetness, and the most common measure is known as "degrees brix." There's an brief discussion of the brix scale at Frog Hollow's web site. Frog Hollow has the peach religion; according to their high priests, the 17-18 brix peach "almost goes beyond the human threshold for pleasure." If you're keen to test your own specimens, you can purchase a refractometer or cheaper hydrometer from The brix scale was calibrated by Adolf F. Brix in 1870. It is commonly misunderstood to refer to the percentage of sugar in the fruit, but this isn't quite accurate. (It's accurate enough that unless your license plate is IMAGEEK, you can skip the next paragraph.)

Degrees brix refers to the percentage of dissolved solids in water at a set temperature, usually a comfy 20 degrees Celsius; in a peach or a grape, the only dissolved solids of any significant mass are sugars. Citrus growers also measure the brix of their product. "The increased profits from the higher sugar content of the harvest will more than pay for this measuring instrument," tells its orange-growing customers, and I say amen to that. Frostproof also sells the exciting books Practical Woody Plant Propagation for Nursery Growers and Citrus Pests and Their Natural Enemies, in case you're interested.

I can't think of a better way to serve a ripe peach than by itself, at room temperature, with a good supply of napkins. Then again, my mother recently turned some Frog Hollows into the peach shortcake to end all peach shortcakes. The recipe follows.

Yesterday I returned to the Peach-o-Rama and found that a new strain of Frog Hollows had come in. These were still not the equal of the Pence peaches, but the skin was entirely edible this time around. My pleasure threshold was nearly exceeded.

Serves 6

For the biscuits:

2 cups flour
2.5 tsp baking power
1/2 tsp salt
1 tsp sugar
5-6 tbsp cold butter
1 cup half-and-half

6 fresh peaches, sliced and sprinkled with granulated sugar
1 cup heavy cream
Confectioner's sugar

Preheat the oven to 450°. Combine the dry ingredients in a bowl. Cut in the butter to pea and crumb size using a pastry cutter. Add half-and-half all at once and stir to a sticky batter. Make sure all the flour is combined, but don't beat it. Drop into six egg-sized lumps onto an ungreased cookie sheet. Bake for 12-15 minutes to golden brown; the biscuits should feel firm to the touch. Meanwhile, whip the cream and sweeten it with confectioner's sugar.

Slice each biscuit horizontally, place it on a plate or bowl and layer with peaches and whipped cream. Serve immediately. [HOME]

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