The peach is a member of the rose family, cousin to apricots, cherries, plums, and almonds. Nectarines are actually a fuzz-less, smaller variety of peach. Nectarines and peaches can develop spontaneously from each other via seed or sport bud.
Out of the hundreds of varieties of peaches, each can be classified as clingstone, freestone, or semi-freestone. In general, most peaches are classified by how firmly the flesh attaches to the pit.
These are so named because the flesh clings stubbornly to the stone or pit. The flesh is yellow, with bright red touches closest to the stone. They have a soft texture, and are juicier and sweeter — perfect for desserts. This is the preferred variety for jellies, jams, and bottling. Although clingstones are tasty eaten fresh, they are sometimes difficult to find in the local market. The commercial industry uses clingstones for peaches canned in various levels of syrup.
As its name implies, the stone is easily removed from this variety, making it a good choice for eating fresh. This is the type most commonly found in your local grocery store. They tend to be larger than clingstones, with a firmer, less juicy texture, yet still sweet. They are excellent for bottling and baking purposes.
This newer type is a hybrid of the clingstone and freestone. It is good for general purposes, both fresh and bottled.
Selection and Storage
Choose peaches that are firm to the touch, but whose flesh will yield with gentle pressure. The fruits should be unblemished and free of bruises, with a warm, fragrant aroma.
Most peaches will have a rosy blush to the skin, but this is usually just a variety trait and not necessarily an indication of quality. A good indicator of maturity is a well-defined cleft in the shape of the peach. Avoid those with any hint of green as they will never fully ripen. Although peaches will continue to ripen after being picked from the tree, the sugar production ceases once plucked and will not increase even though the fruit may soften.
Under-ripe peaches can be ripened somewhat by placing them in a paper bag punched with holes at room temperature in a spot away from sunlight. Check often for ripeness as they can go from under-ripe to overripe in a matter of twenty-four hours. An apple or banana, both of which exude natural ethylene gas, added to the bag will hasten ripening.
To remove the seed, slice lengthwise 360° around the pit down to the stone. Twist each half simultaneously in opposite directions. Freestone peaches should separate easily.
Since peaches are highly perishable, purchase only the amount you need to use within a few days or plan on preserving them for long-term storage. The fruit should not be washed until just before you intend to use it. When storing fresh peaches at room temperature, be sure there is enough space between them to allow proper air circulation. Fresh peaches can be kept at room temperature three to four days, depending on how ripe they are when you buy them.
Refrigeration will extend their life, but not by more than a day or two. Peaches need humidity, so refrigerate in a plastic bag and use within two days. Ideally, let refrigerated peaches come close to room temperature before eating (about 30 minutes), as the flavour will be more full and robust.
The seed stone will impart a bitter flavour, so be sure to remove it before bottling or freezing peaches. Peaches frozen in a sugar pack result in a better product than those frozen in plain water. Better quality is also served if you peel raw peaches rather than blanching before freezing. If the fruits are overly ripe, puree or chop the fruit, add an acidic juice to keep the fruit from darkening, and freeze in a tightly-sealed container or plastic zip-top bag with air removed.
Peach puree can be dried into fruit leather. Slices and halves can also be dehydrated.
Commercially-canned peaches can be stored in a cool cupboard unopened for up to one year. Opened canned peaches should be refrigerated and used within one week.
Cooking Tips and Hints
- Cobbler, pie, and Melba are the most well-known dishes using peaches. Peach Melba was created by famed French chef Escoffier in honour of Australian opera singer Nellie Melba. The basic melba recipe consists of half of a peach poached in syrup, topped with vanilla ice cream, and garnished with raspberry puree. This recipe has been adapted to be used with many different fruits. Other popular peach uses include jelly, jam, ice cream, fruit leather, liqueur, and brandy.
- Although the fuzzy skin is perfectly edible, it becomes tough when cooked. To remove the skin, blanch in boiling water for one minute and then immediately plunge into cold water to cease the cooking process. The skin should easily slip off. Do not let them soak in the water.
- Nectarines, apricots, plums, cherries, or mango may be substituted for peaches in equal measure in most recipes.
- The flesh of peaches will darken with exposure to air, so they must be cooked or eaten immediately once cut or further treated. The darkening can be retarded by dipping the cut pieces in an acidic juice of citrus or pineapple, either diluted with water or full strength. For sweet dishes, you may prefer to use pineapple or orange juice as the acid rather than the more tart lemon or lime juice. For savoury dishes, lemon or lime is usually the choice.
- Washing peaches will remove most of the fuzz.
- Ricotta cheese, mascarpone cheese and cured meats are all excellent paired with peaches. For a simple, yet elegant dessert, try vanilla bean ice cream topped with sliced peaches and a generous sprinkling of Grand Marnier or orange liqueur.