Enjoying peaches in season

August 7, 2011 (CHICAGO)


Where do your peaches come from? We took a picture of the tree our peaches came from so you can get as up close and personal to your fruit as possible! If you are shopping Peapod this week you can buy locally grown peaches from Seedling Farms located just across the border in New Haven, Michigan. Peter Klein is the proud owner of 81 acres of orchards producing all kinds of fruit from the exotic paw paw (looks like a giant papaya native to the Midwest) and apples to this week's feature, wonderfully delicious peaches. Peter quit the corporate rat race years ago for a slower, more fulfilling lifestyle of farming and the contentment that comes with producing fruits from the earth with hard manual labor.

Why are Peter's peaches so good? To put it in his own words, "We let the fruit hang on the tree a little longer than most to let the flavors fully develop." Peter is a bundle of energy, overseeing a small empire of hand-picked fruits he delivers to Peapod as well as local farmer's markets. You can catch him at Chicago's Green Market on Tuesdays and Thursdays selling his fruit and explaining the nuances of the different varieties. "Peaches are always picked ripe, but firm. They just need to soften up at home to get really juicy," you can hear him say. Here are some of Peter's tips for picking peaches:

The Look:
The peach should be round and full. A "flattened" peach or a deep crease in the side is signs that it's not quite ripe and ready yet.

The Touch:
Be careful here! Treat your peaches like eggs, handle gently. Applying pressure on the side will bruise and damage the peach, so pick up by holding the top and bottom of the peach only! Our peaches are ripe but firm (so we can get them to you without damage) and may need 1-2 days to soften up. If we brought them any riper, they would easily get damaged. The peach should be firm, with just a hint of give. In 1-2 days, it will be nice and soft and ready to dive into!

The Smell:
Go ahead and sniff it, don't be shy! In some ways this is the best indication, since different varieties will look different. It should smell sweet and fresh with hints of honey and citrus. The aroma will become more intense as it ripens. (I will add a caveat here, if peaches are under refrigeration they will not smell, this is only good for peaches at room temperature.)

The Science:
For our markets, we pick fruit when it's ripe. In addition to the basics above, we can tell when its ripe by testing the sugars in the fruit to make sure each variety is about as sweet as it will get. Each variety increases its BRIX (the sugar measured in the fruit juice) as it ripens, which means sweeter fruit. The early varieties of peaches were about 10 percent sugars, while we are now in the 12% range and steadily climbing. We can increase the sugar content of each variety by leaving them on the tree longer, but then they get too soft to get them to you safely.

The Storage:
Keep your peaches out on the counter to get them to the desired softness. Then, when they're perfectly ripe, pop them in the fridge to keep them from ripening further. Or you can keep a few in the fridge and bring them out to room temperature to ripen later. Putting them in a paper bag will indeed ripen them faster -- ripening fruit gives off a gas that helps other fruit ripen.

Okay, now we have this delicious ripe fruit locally sourced, how best to enjoy it? I love eating peaches out of hand. As Peter said, let them ripen at room temperature and if refrigerated bring them to room temperature before enjoying. My father was Italian, his parents originated from Sicily, and one of his favorite ways to enjoy the summer bounty was fresh peaches sliced in a glass of slightly chilled red wine. One of my great experiences with peaches was at a charitable dinner with a local Chicago chef. We took some of Peter's delectable peaches, sprinkled with fresh local blueberries and then layered with a velvety sauce called Sabayon. Sabayon is a French/Italian sauce used to enhance the flavors of fresh fruit. What better way to enjoy a great dinner than with fresh fruit? I detest the over-the-top, decadent desserts offered by some restaurants that can make you feel overstuffed and obligated to work them off for weeks. For me it's fresh seasonal fruit every time!

Sabayon sauce is simple to create. It will make you feel like a gourmand in your own kitchen, and hopefully will entice you to serve and enjoy more fresh seasonal fruit. It is in essence a light, whipped custard. Simply take two egg yolks, combine with sugar and wine in a stainless steel bowl and whisk over a simmering pot of water until the mixture triples in volume. What you are doing is beating air into the mixture to make an ethereal sauce. I prefer a muscato or a sparkling wine. (By the way muscato wines are hot! They are great summer and dessert wines.) Then serve over fresh peaches and blueberries. It's the perfect summer dessert that everyone will enjoy!

What better way to beat the heat this Sunday than some cool fresh local peaches with a smooth rich sauce.

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