The bounty of the summer season brings untold numbers of fresh fruits and vegetables into our kitchens. But perhaps no produce is more anticipated than fresh local peaches.
Perhaps you've been fooled already this season by the sweet scent of peaches teasing your senses as you walked through the produce department at the grocery store. Maybe you went ahead and bought some earlier this summer, your mouth watering for that first bite. Chances are those early arrivals left you sad when you brought them home and cut into them. Your tastebuds were no doubt met with disappointment. The taste of shipped-in peaches is a weak comparison to peaches purchased from local growers who wait until they are ripe and ready to pick.
And the moment has finally arrived.
Compared to last year, with its heavy drought and smoke from forest fires, this year is a very good one for peaches at Owl Hollow Farm in McDonald, Tenn.
"A cool, rainy spring was such a welcome relief," says farm owner Linda Swift.
The Swifts are new to the peach business, having planted their first trees in 2004 and adding two or three more each year. Many of the trees are just now old enough to bear enough fruit to share with family and friends.
"We like the freestone peaches, particularly a variety called Redhaven," Swift notes. "In my opinion, the juicy, rich flavor and crimson color are what peaches are all about."
Another freestone favorite grown in this area is Hale Haven, due to ripen later in the season, around September.
"Both varieties are disease resistant, which is important to us, because we never use pesticides," Swift says.
There's just something about locally grown peaches that give them so much flavor. Swift says commercial produce varieties are selected for appearance and for shipping and storage capabilities, not for flavor.
"They are often grown in depleted soil that has been treated with chemical fertilizers," she says. "Because of the time spent in storage and during shipping, commercial produce has to be harvested before it is ripe.
"That is true of many crops," she adds, "but the difference is most obvious with tomatoes and peaches. Any crop that is grown in healthy, organic soil and is allowed to ripen fully before being harvested is going to have a much more complex flavor and be more nutrient dense."
So during this short period of time, visit your favorite market and ask which peaches are locally grown. Or maybe you can just tell by smell.
Peaches have a flavor that works surprisingly well with other ingredients, as shown with this salsa that is the yin-yang of the summer harvest. Peach Cucumber Salsa is both sweet and tart with textures that range from crunchy to soft. It's a rather remarkable salsa that can be served as an appetizer with chips or as a topping for grilled fish or chicken.
Cucumber Peach Salsa
1 large cucumber, finely chopped
2 medium green peppers, finely chopped
2 medium tomatoes, finely chopped
1 small red onion, finely chopped
1 cup mandarin orange segments, drained and chopped
2 tablespoons lemon juice
1 tablespoon minced fresh cilantro
1 tablespoon minced fresh parsley
1 garlic clove, minced
1/4 teaspoon salt
1/4 teaspoon hot pepper sauce
1/8 teaspoon pepper
1 medium peach, peeled and finely chopped
In a large bowl, combine all ingredients except peaches. Refrigerate at least 30 minutes to allow flavors to blend. Just before serving, stir in peaches. Serve with tortilla chips or over grilled chicken.
Contact Anne Braly at email@example.com.