Summertime, and the Eating is Peachy

It’s summer in South Carolina, and the local produce aisles are full of fabulous summer fruit. As a child of the South, I grew up on fresh peaches, and there’s nothing I like better. But as someone new to healthy eating, much of it done on the run or on the go, I’ve been challenged to incorporate peaches into my daily menus.

Pick up any cookbook worth its salt, and you’ll find multitudes of recipes that incorporate peaches. As a new cook, I count on those cookbooks – and Google, too – to guide me. There’s one thing those resources don’t provide, however: extra hours in the day. If I don’t do my meal planning and preparation on Sunday, it likely doesn’t get done. That presents quite a challenge when Tuesday’s co-op bag includes plentitudes of peaches or when a friend shares their peach bounty. This season, I’ve learned a few tricks of the trade when it comes to peaches, and I thought it may help some of you who are challenged for time and perhaps like me, challenged in the kitchen:

  • If you don’t already know this, file it away in must-have info for every Midlands resident: Georgia may call itself the “Peach State,” but South Carolina is the nation’s second largest peach producer, second only to California.
  • Not only are peaches delicious, they are nutritious! An average peach has only 40 calories and contains no fat or sodium. Peaches are also packed with lots of “good for you” nutrients like beta-carotene, vitamin A, potassium, even iron.
  • There are two major types of peaches: “Freestone” and “Clingstone”. Freestone peaches slip easily away from the pit; Clingstones, not so much.
  • Even under ideal conditions peaches will only keep for a week in a refrigerator, so for best flavor and texture, use them as soon as possible after purchase. If you won’t be able to use them right away, cut and freeze them or they’ll soon end up, gasp, in the compost bin.
  • You don’t peel peaches, you blanch them. To blanch peaches, drop the fruit into a large pot of boiling water for about forty-five seconds. Don’t dawdle; the idea is to loosen the skin without cooking the flesh. Remove the fruit from the boiling water and drop immediately into a bowl of ice water.  The skin will now slip easily free of the flesh.
  •  Just as my grandmother did, many Southerners toss sliced peaches in lemon juice and sugar before freezing. This is one of those steps that adds both prep time and calories, so I skip this step, and my peaches have been just fine.
  • One thing I DID learn this year: when freezing peaches, just throwing freshly cut peaches into a container and freezing creates the dreaded “frozen peach clump.” Frozen peach clumps are hard to measure and even harder to use smoothies and other recipes calling for frozen peaches. If time allows, this is the best way to freeze: Spread the peach slices on a baking sheet or large plate lined with parchment paper, making sure they do not touch. Cover loosely with plastic wrap. Pop them into the freezer for a few hours or overnight. The now-frozen peaches may be easily packed into quart-sized Ziploc bags without sticking together.
  • Speaking of measuring, it takes about two medium peaches to make one cup of sliced peaches. Need a pound of peaches? That’s about three medium fruits.
  •  I don’t care for the texture of the fuzzy peach skin, so I find peaches hard to eat on the run. For the taste of a peach with more convenient packaging, there’s nothing better than a nectarine. Peaches and nectarines are virtually identical except for the skin — peaches are fuzzy and nectarines appear “clean shaven” or smooth in skin appearance. I recently read that nectarines are even generated from peach trees with a genetic mutation. Nectarines can also be used in any recipe calling for peaches.
  •  I like my fresh peaches best on their own or over oatmeal or cereal, but I know there are a million ways to use them! Please share the wealth; I’m on the lookout for peachy keen recipes, especially those that incorporate other unrefined ingredients.

When it comes to peaches, I am a definite newbie. If you have great tips on preparing peaches, please share them!  It wasn’t until I was 43 years old that my grandmother told me how to blanch peaches, and now that she’s gone, time-proven tips like that are hard to come by!

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