Alice Waters, the legendary American chef, once famously served a solitary peach as the dessert on her no choice menu in her restaurant in California.
It caused controversy at the time but when you have something as naturally beautiful as a perfectly ripe fruit, it makes sense. There’s a window in the culinary calendar when peaches are luscious, fragrant and delicious and that time is now.
A friend of mine moved to New Zealand many years ago and I rang him a month after he settled in. He had moved into a house with a peach tree in the garden and was bottling the harvest from the tree as we spoke. I don’t think I’ve ever been as jealous of anyone!
In London last week I bought some Italian peaches, their leaves still intact. They were wonderfully juicy and tasted so sweet and decadent. Green grocers here have great peaches at the moment and now, when they’re at their most lush, is the time to preserve them for the winter months.
When you touch a ripe peach it should have a little give and not feel like a cricket ball! Smell it too - you should get a potent, sweet aroma from a ripe one. My mum used to buy a tray of peaches, freeze them and then cooked them in November in honey. The memory of summer on a cold grey day.
Another way to capture the peach’s essence, but with a little more effort, is to make a jelly. We do this for autumnal fruits like apples and quinces so why not for summer fruits? Ripe peaches are boiled with a chopped cooking apple, vinegar, water, rosemary and fennel seeds, to a mushy pulp.
The mixture is then transferred to a muslin lined sieve and then allowed to slowly drip overnight into a clear juice. If you can’t find muslin (and sometimes a unicorn would be easier to locate...) use a clean linen pillow case. Sugar is then added to the liquid and boiled until it reaches setting point – 105oc on a sugar thermometer or probe. If you don’t possess either, place a saucer in the freezer and when a spoonful of the mixture ripples when it touches the cold surface, it’s ready. Getting to this stage will take about an hour, but only needs the odd stir to keep it happy.
The peach jelly can be kept for months as long as the jars were well sterilized. Serve with grilled pork chops or a slow roast shoulder of pork or lamb.
I’m not a massive fan of fruit with savoury meats but the apple and vinegar cut through the sweetness here and work well.
When you have ripe peaches they’re lovely in a salad with parma ham, feta cheese and a few mint sprigs. Drizzle with good olive oil and a squeeze of lemon or balsamic vinegar. The saltiness of the ham and cheese works as a perfect foil to the sweet fruit and the mint and lemon add a zingy freshness. Sometimes I scatter over a few toasted almonds for crunch.
For making the most of these summer treasures right now, rather than just enjoy them with the juice running down your chin, they work well in hot desserts.
My other recipe this week is for a torta – a cake with peaches baked in the batter.
When the hot cake comes from the oven you brush with melted butter and sprinkle with a spiced sugar mix. Fragrant peaches, heady spice and warm butter – what could be better on a wet summer’s day?
Maybe just a scoop of ice-cream on top...