July 10, 2013 10:23:40 AM
Jan Swoope - firstname.lastname@example.org
"Here, just taste this," said Gordon Parker, holding out a fragrant peach Monday afternoon at the Hitching Lot Farmers' Market. "Really good, isn't it?"
Parker is justifiably proud of the Early Haven peaches he's hauling to the Columbus market these days (along with squash, bell peppers, tomatoes, sweet corn and blueberries). Of the five bushels of peaches -- about 250 pounds-- he brought Monday, only two small baskets went home with him.
The sweet, fuzzy fruit most often identified with the Deep South is delicious when just plucked. But they're also wildly popular in desserts, and innovative cooks use them in savory recipes for poultry, pork and seafood, too.
"I love 'em right off the tree, but we make a lot of peach cobblers, peach ice cream, and we can them at my house, too," said Parker, who operates Parker Farm in Hamilton. His grandson, Jonathan Flippo, assists on the farm and at the farmers' market. The recent Mississippi State University graduate genially waited on customers Monday.
The peaches Parker and his grandson bring to town on Mondays, Thursdays and Saturdays are hand-picked from Truman Reeves' orchard in Sulligent, Ala. Reeves tends his 600 or so trees year-round. Parker will bring, on average, about 500 bushels per season to the market at Second Avenue and Second Street North. A banner season two or three years ago, however, produced more than 1,000 bushels the vendor was able to sell to customers who appreciate homegrown, fresh-picked fruit.
"You can't ever tell ... the weather plays a whole lot into it. This little rainy season we had helped us a whole lot in making 'em ripe; these peaches are good," said Parker, who is described by his grandson as "the hardest working person you'll ever find."
A few peach tips
After bringing home your fresh peaches, store them at room temperature with enough space between them to allow for good air circulation, advises about.com. They can usually be kept for three to four days, depending on how ripe they were when you bought them. Peaches are highly perishable, so it's best not to buy more at one time than you intend to use within a few days or plan on preserving for long-term storage.
Refrigeration can extend their life by a day or so, but peaches need humidity, so refrigerate them in a plastic bag. Let refrigerated peaches come close to room temperature before eating to enhance the full flavor.
The fuzzy skin of a peach is edible, but washing the fruit will remove most of the fuzz, if you prefer.
The skin becomes tough when cooked. To remove it, blanch the peach in boiling water for one minute and then immediately plunge into cold water to cease the cooking process, says about.com. The skin should easily slip off. But don't let your peaches soak in the water.
Chef Chris Santos of The Stanton Social on New York's Lower East Side shares one of his favorite peachy recipes -- a caramelized peach and Brie quesadilla with red chile honey.
"I love peaches and particularly cooking with them because of the way the sugars develop when you grill the flesh. Cooked peaches have natural pectin, which when heated gives them a rich caramel flavor and creamy mouth-feel. The chile honey elevates the sweetness and also adds an element of heat, while the savory Brie balances the sweet and spicy elements and creates the perfect balance of flavors."
Whether you prefer to eat your peaches out of hand, or enjoy them in a sweet dessert or savory appetizer like Santos' (see the recipe below), this fruit first cultivated in China and viewed as a symbol of good luck will be harvested in North Mississippi and West Alabama into September, Parker said. So you'll have ample opportunity to stop by your community farmers' markets to take advantage of this summer's succulent gift. Enjoy.
CHRIS SANTOS' CARAMELIZED PEACH AND BRIE QUESADILLA WITH RED CHILE HONEY
Makes 4 servings
12 six-inch flour tortillas
1 peach, sliced
2 sprigs fresh thyme
1/4 pound of Brie cheese cut into very thin slices
1/4 red onion
2 tablespoons butter
For the chile honey:
1/4 cup honey
1 tablespoon crushed red pepper
1/2 teaspoon ancho chile powder
Pinch of salt
Cut each stack into eight triangular slices. Drizzle with chile honey and serve immediately
GRILLED PEACHES AND PORK
4 (4-ounce) boneless center-cut pork loin chops
1/4 cup balsamic vinegar, divided
2 tablespoons fresh lime juice
3 teaspoons chopped fresh thyme
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/2 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
4 large peaches, peeled, halved, and pitted (about 12 ounces)
6 cups trimmed arugula
1 teaspoon turbinado or granulated sugar
2 tablespoons unsalted butter
2 tablespoons sugar
4 large ripe peaches, pitted and each cut into 8 wedges
Jan Swoope is the Lifestyles Editor for The Commercial Dispatch.