Are peaches the most delicious of all fruits?
I won’t answer that question as I can’t.
Finding the perfect peach
What I do know is that my father, George, grew the best peaches I have ever tasted.
He didn’t really have to grow his own as he had free access to the stone fruits grown in the various Tamar Valley orchards he worked on. And those orchards grew gorgeous peaches. However, when my parents moved to Windermere and where Olive’s Cottage is today, they had their own land and Dad soon planted a mini-orchard below the house, towards the river. He would take great care to avoid infestation from disease or bugs or attacks by birds or possums.
He would only pick his peaches when they were properly ripe so that the flavours were at their most intense. When we ate them, especially the white fleshed ones, the juice would be running down our chins. What we didn’t eat, Dad would put in trays out on the nature strip, along with any excess vegetables, for locals to purchase using an honesty system. The cost would be a pittance – he couldn’t live with himself if he felt he was over-charging! We children, and Mum, could not help but hope that sometimes the locals would pay a little more when they stopped by with their paper bags or buckets.
In Tasmania, the peach season is concentrated around January and February. If you are over there try to buy them straight from an orchard or a roadside stall that you might come across in your travels. Then you might taste perfection. Jane Grigson, in her Fruit Book, talks about her (generally unsuccessful) searches for the perfect peach.
You take your chances when buying peaches and nectarines from the supermarket or greengrocer. Our experience in Melbourne is that, while they look in great condition, the quality varies enormously, possibly due to being picked way too early and spending too much time in cool stores, on trucks or on shelves. Finding just the right fruit requires some bravery as you gently squeeze one piece after another, testing them for ripeness under the glare of the store staff or other customers. When you get them home, sometimes they will be sensational; other times they will be badly bruised under the skin (from too much squeezing in the store?) or dry and bereft of any flavour.
Peaches v Nectarines
Peaches originate from north west China. Peaches and nectarines are very similar genetically. The most obvious difference is that peaches have a furry or velvety skin while nectarines have a smooth skin. The flesh for either can be white or yellow. We find the white fleshed fruit are the best for eating and yellow fleshed the best for cooking or preserving. White fleshed peaches seem to be the most delicate of the lot and more subject to bruising. You may be lucky to find peaches which have flesh that is almost crimson.
Peaches can also be defined as freestone (the pip falls away easily from the flesh) and clingstone (the pip is difficult to separate from the flesh). Clingstone peaches tend to be used for commercial canning while in your home the freestone varieties can be easier to work with for bottling or preserving. However, one of our friends far prefers the yellow clingstone peach for eating over other options.
A relatively new arrival in Australia are doughnut shaped white fleshed peaches, identifiable by their squashed or flattened appearance; apparently there is a yellow flesh version.
However, like most fruits, peaches and nectarines come in many guises which go somewhat beyond the broad categories discussed above: you would find that out if you went to buy a peach tree at your local nursery!
Peaches and nectarines are very versatile: from eating ‘neat’ to savoury salads, to curries, to fine dining and to all manner of cakes and desserts.
Following is a photograph of a disarmingly simple but delicious dish: slices of peaches and/or nectarines marinated in a syrup of lemon and orange juice. It was given to us by a friend who has been preparing it for many years; the recipe comes from a book published in 1975.
For the recipe, click here: Marinated Fresh Peaches
Meanwhile, good luck with your search for the perfect peach. You may have to hop in the car and get out into the country where they are grown, or find a friend with a peach tree in their back yard.