If there’s one fruit that reminds me of growing up in the South, it has to be a juicy, tree-ripened peach. (That is, unless you consider the tomato as a fruit, which it is, but I never think of it that way). It’s not just that my parents gave me the nickname “Miss Peach” and the fact that we arrived in North Carolina when I was five on a Southern Railways train called the “Peach Queen.” But from that point on, I knew that I would have a special affinity for peaches.
Every summer my parents would pile all five of us kids plus our dog into a Mercury station wagon pulling a trailer and take us to a campground outside of Myrtle Beach. Just about half way, we’d pull over at a roadside stand in Florence, SC and buy a big basket of peaches to consume over the week. Many people think the very best peaches are grown in Georgia not South Carolina, which they probably are. But with a summer like we’ve had this year, one bite into a Pacific Northwest sweet peach is enough to immediately transport me back to that annual road trip. Believe me, there were other parts of the ride I don’t remember as fondly but you have to remember, this was before most cars were air-conditioned. It was hot and we weren’t restrained by seat belts or entertained by portable DVD players and besides, I had three brothers who were relentless teasers.
Since my parents were actually Northerners transferred to the South, it was as if we were traveling in a foreign country. My mother made a big deal about these peaches and how special it was to be able to buy them right from the source. I still feel that way and obviously everyone waiting in the line to buy Rama peaches at the farmers market knows they’re well worth the wait. This year Billy has some peaches that rival even Rama and has “seconds” if you get there early enough.
Peaches need very little messing with to be thoroughly enjoyed. Eaten whole, skins and all, like we used to, leaves a trail of sweet sticky juice so if you’re a prissy eater, slices might be more your style. A couple on your morning cereal or favorite ice cream is a real treat. They also play well with other fruits like blueberries and strawberries. If you have the time and want to make a peach pie, you won’t regret it. Add a “glug of almond extract or a big spoonful of almond paste” like my friend Abby and you may just create a pie that others remember for years and beg for your recipe.
Because I don’t cook much in the sweet category, I’m always looking for ways to use fruit in savory dishes. I saw a recipe in Melissa Clark’s column in the NY Times for roasting green peaches with chicken. Green (unripe) peaches are usually simple to find at any grocery store since they’re often picked and shipped before they’re fully ripe. At the farmers market, thankfully, most of the peaches are either ripe or will be in a day or two. You can make this recipe with peaches at any stage of ripeness. I found the combination of sweet peaches, garlic, ginger, chicken and basil very addictive and delicious. It’s a perfect dish for a late summer meal — be forewarned if you eat outdoors — the yellow jackets may agree. Be sure to serve it on rice or with a crusty piece of bread, the juice is one you’ll want to sop up.
Chicken with Peaches, Garlic, Ginger & Basil
2 or 3 medium peaches (unripe is preferable but ripe is fine), halved, pitted and sliced
1 lb boneless chicken thighs cut into 1″ strips
2 T olive oil
2 T dry sherry (I didn’t have any so I substituted Peach Brandy)
2 T chopped fresh basil
2 garlic cloves, minced
1″ piece of fresh ginger root, grated
Salt & Pepper
Preheat oven to 400 degrees.
Toss all ingredients except basil in a 9×13 baking dish.
Roast until meat is cooked through and peaches are softened, about 30 minutes.
Garnish with basil, salt & pepper to taste.
Melissa Clark’s recipe says it’s three servings. At our house, it’s more like two.
A sweet and savory salad is another way to eat a peach or two. One of my favorites combines peaches, goat cheese, arugula, prosciutto and fennel seeds.