The magic of the quick-growing peach begins with an abundance of subtle pink blossoms during spring. As the weather warms, the lush green growth of a canopy takes over before the branches starts to groan under the weight of voluptuous yellow orbs. And while the trees offer ample rewards, these luscious fruits need to be eaten right now when they are at their best.
Did You Know?
The peach is native to China, and even today they produce some 58 per cent of the fruit’s total production in the world. In fact, Chinese archaeological evidence of peaches more than 8000 years old has been recorded as the fruit is thought to have been widespread across Asia into what was then Persia.
Peaches held a mythical quality in ancient Chinese literature, drawn as symbols for immortality and fertility. It was believed those who ate the juicy fruits were blessed with a long life filled with pleasure. To this day, the peach is often metaphorically written about as though they hold the same qualities of voluptuous human flesh, or as a euphemism for sexual and explicit motifs.
Aside from the variants of rose-tinted skin, the benefits of peaches include being high in dietary fibre, as well as having no cholesterol or saturated fat. While they may not hold as much vitamin C as an orange, they are higher in vitamin A and offer a number of other trace elements and vitamins. Peaches also contain plenty of natural fructose – across an average of 150-175g there is about 12-14g of sugar per fruit. While this makes for an excellent setting point for jams, it does mean the majority of the fruit’s 250 kilojoules comes purely from sugars.
How To Buy
A mature peach picked off the tree has a fresh perfume scent similar to a simple rose and this perfectly ripe fruit will also have a softening in the flesh at the stem end. However, peaches can also be picked when not quite ready for eating and will ripen off the tree, so can be kept in chilled conditions to reduce deterioration. This is often how they are presented in store. Choose fruits that have full colour (even if still hard), as green ones won’t change colour. Allow ripening to occur at room temperature, letting them rest without touching other fruit. Peaches do also bruise easily, so handle carefully.
How To Grow
Peach trees are not easy to grow as they can be inflicted by bugs and airborne fungus, which are all attracted to the sweet sap in the fruit and stems. The large trees are fast-growing and fare well in temperate conditions only, so don’t thrive in humidity, tropical heat or severe cold. They need plenty of cold chilling weather through the winter to encourage the buds to burst in spring and will prosper in a dry summer. An average fruiting tree will usually only be at its best for about eight years.
How To Store
Ripe peaches need to be stored in cool conditions to prevent further ripening. As soon as the season is in full bloom and the fruit has ripened to perfection, grab your sterilised jars and lids and preserve a few for later. It is completely worth it come autumn and winter when you want delicious fruit slices on your warm cereal. An abundance of peaches can be easily made into jams or jellies, or gifted to your neighbours.
Unfortunately peaches are a quick fruit to go rotten. Fungus and dry conditions, or even a long stay in the fridge, can quickly turn them from juicy and delicious to flavourless and a waste of time. As soon as you have them, use them. Cook them in jams, syrups or even just peel and freeze chunks for peach melba smoothies or cocktails. Another option is to grab a few peaches while slightly under-ripe and freeze for making jam and chutneys in the winter.
Cooking with Peaches
The flesh is delicate and needs little cooking to be paired with other subtle flavours, such as equally delicate raspberries (or any berries for that matter), almonds, soft ripened cheeses, salad greens and light desserts. For savoury dishes, all seafood and white meats, such as chicken, work well with peach flavours. But it is in desserts where the fruit holds its own, enhancing any recipe with tangy and sweet freshness, especially classics such as peach melba, summer trifles, tarts and pavlovas.
Some of our favourite peach recipes: