April 20, 2024


Cooking Is My World

Hilde Lee: Peaches sweeten history, and easy desserts | Dining


There is nothing like the taste sensation of biting into a fresh, juicy, cold peach. So what if the juice dribbles down your chin? That cold, sweet sensation gives everyone a “get up and go” feeling.

Writers have described the peach as closely resembling the quality of human flesh. It is of the” pinch type,” as many people pinch the peach to see if it ready for eating.

The peach is a fruit of temperate, but warm, climates. Wild peach trees still grow in China, their original home. The fruit from those trees is very small, quite sour and hairy. The process of developing better strains has been going on for almost 2,000 years. The fruit was the object of a sort of cult from early times. Chinese poets, painters, and sculptors regarded the peach as a symbol of immortality.

As civilization spread westward to find suitable climates in Kashmir and Persia, the peach flourished so well that it was regarded as a native fruit — hence the name Persica. From Persia, the peach came to Greece, and then to Rome. Later the fruit came to Spain from the Far East. In the 16th century, the Spaniards brought the peach to America.

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The two categories of peach — clingstone and free stone — are distinguished by the difficulty or ease with which the flesh comes away from the pit. Each includes both yellow and white flesh. Sadly, however, the English climate is not ideal for peaches. The peach is much more at home in the Mediterranean region and parts of North America. The American growers of peaches, especially in California, have been the forerunners of world production.

To be at its best, a peach has to ripen on the tree. Freshly picked ripe peaches are so good it seems a shame to cook them. The most famous peach dessert is Peach Melba, created in the 19th century to honor Dame Nellie Melba.

Peaches survive being canned better than most fruits. The flavor may be altered, but still good. The American canning industry, which started to grow toward the end of the 19th century, now accounts for much of the world’s canned peach production.

In some Mediterranean countries, the green peaches of so-called wild peaches are used in cooking and for preserves. They are not true wild fruits, but ones that escaped cultivation in China.

Since time immemorial, the peach has captured the imagination of poets and artists. In China, where the peach was considered the symbol of long life, porcelains were painted with peach blossoms and given as birthday gifts to express the wish for many happy years. Both Chinese and Japanese art are lavish in their praise of peach blossoms and fruit.

One of the easiest desserts to make is a Peach Betty. Just before serving, top it with some vanilla ice cream.

4 cups sliced peeled peaches

Combine the first four ingredients and set aside. Arrange half of the peaches in a 1-quart casserole. Top with half of the bread crumb mixture. Dot with 1 tablespoon of butter. Repeat with remaining ingredients. Bake in preheated 375 degree oven for about 40 minutes, or until crumbs are golden and peaches are tender. Serves 6.


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