Food and Drink

   

In Season: Peaches

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When I was a child, growing up in a cold climate far from here, on rare occasions Mum would buy a peach. A single peach! It would sit in the fruit bowl, we kids knowing not to touch it so as not to bruise it, and knowing also that one morning we would get up and it would be gone. Peaches were the one special treat for Mum and Dad. And before I went to sleep at night I would imagine myself very rich, eating fresh peaches every day and breakfasting on peach jam instead of plain old marmalade.

Other cultures it seems have the same reverence for this most delicious of fruits…

The ancient Chinese Emperor Mu asked Si-Wang-Mu, the Mother Queen of the West, for the secret elixir of immortality, but instead she gave him seven peaches, telling him that if he planted the seeds the resultant trees would bear the fruits of immortality. Yet the gods are tricky, those trees only bear fruit once in 3,000 years — in heaven.

They have been grown in China for over 400 years and are still considered to have special powers. The peach is the tree of life and are gifted as symbols of friendship and at Chinese New Year. Fresh peaches, steamed buns in the shape of peaches and plates decorated with peach trees and blossoms are part of birthday celebrations, and brides carry their blossoms.

Vietnamese King Quang Trung Ngọc Hồi, after winning a decisive victory against the Chinese Qing Dynasty invaders, ordered a messenger to deliver a flowering peach branch to his wife as a message of victory, and a sign of the start of a new spring of peace and happiness for the Vietnam. In Korea, peaches are believed to chase away spirits and are associated with long life, happiness and wealth.

Little did I know that eventually I would arrive in a country where I could pick tree-ripened peaches from the garden! All last week we have been gorging on delicious fresh peaches. Some of us may look, speak, dress differently but every day we thank all the gods we are in the lucky country!

Buy your peaches fragrant, unblemished and not overly firm, and don’t buy more than you plan to use as they ripen quickly. Store them at room temperature and not in the fridge as, like tomatoes, it can diminish their flavour. If some become too bruised don’t throw the whole out, they are fine if you cut away the spoiled bit.

If their furry skin puts you off they can be easily peeled. Just like tomatoes, blanch them in boiling water until the skin starts to loosen then quickly plunge into cold water.

Here’s a somewhat different way to prepare your peaches:

BAKED PEACHES WITH AMARETTI FILLING
2 ½ tablespoons caster sugar
2 egg yolks
2 tablespoons butter (soft)
12 Amaretti biscuits
¼ tablespoon Vanilla essence
4 freestone peaches

Method
Crush the Amaretti in a processor.
Skin the peaches as described above, cut them in half and remove the stone.
Whisk the sugar with yolks until they are pale and light.
Whisk in the butter then add the Amaretti and vanilla.
Pile the filling on top of the peaches, covering the whole of the surface.
Bake for 30 minutes at 130ºC.
Allow to cool for 5 minutes and serve with a dollop of pure cream.


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