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Perfection in Peaches

Perfection in Peaches

            Historians believe peaches originated in China where they were first mentioned in writings dating back to the 10th century. The peach has special significance in Chinese culture: the peach tree is considered to be the tree of life while fruits of the mighty tree are symbols of immortality and unity. In fact, peach blossoms are carried by Chinese brides. To this day, China remains the largest producer of peaches in the world

            From China, the Persians introduced the fruit to the Romans who received the "Persian apple" later introduced the fruit to Europe by Alexander the Great. Columbus brought peach trees to America on his second and third voyages and other Spanish explorers have been credited with bringing the peach to South America. The French introduced them to Louisiana while the English brought them to their Jamestown and Massachusetts colonies.  California grows more than 50 percent of the total number in the U.S. Meanwhile, Georgia, with 40-plus varieties, is known as the Peach State and produces over 130 million lbs. of the official state fruit between mid-May and mid-August.

            Peach and nectarines are the same species, even though they are regarded commercially as different fruits. Peaches, have the characteristic fuzz on the skin, while nectarines are the fuzz- less fruit.  The distinctive peach aroma is composed of 110 different chemical compounds. Depending upon the seed that is free or firmly attached to the pulp, peaches are classified as a free-stone or clinging seed variety.

            Peaches are low in calories – a 100 g peach contains just 39 calories- and contain no saturated fats.  The main punch a peach packs is vitamins. Specifically, a peach boasts 10 different kinds: A, C, E, K and six of the B complex vitamins. Vitamin A and beta carotene helps you achieve optimal vision, while vitamin C is an antioxidant that is helpful to your immune system. Although peaches provide lower levels of vitamins E and K, they reside in significant quantities within the peach. Vitamin E is another antioxidant, while vitamin K is essential to your blood clotting capabilities. Peaches are also a source of thiamin, riboflavin, vitamin B-6, niacin, folate, and pantothenic acid, all valuable nutrients when it comes to your cells and nerves.

            Peaches can be available year round; however, the season for fresh fruits lasts from May until October. Look for fresh ones featuring rich color which may still have a slight whitish "bloom" on their surface indicating freshness, and that they have not been over handled. Avoid ones with excessive softness, or with surface cuts and bruises. Ripe fruits yield to gentle pressure and feature sweet aroma.  Ripe fruits can be kept inside the refrigerator but preferably be brought back to room temperature before eating to enjoy their rich flavor.

            As with apples, sliced peach fruit sections turns brown on exposure to air - an enzymatic brownish discoloration.  Rinse slices in water added with few drops of fresh lemon to keep them fresh looking.  

            The record for the biggest peach cobbler goes to Georgia, known as the Peach State. Each year a cobbler measuring 11 feet by 5 feet is made in Peach County in that state.  In your kitchen you might want to try the following delicious and reduced-sugar combination of peach and pineapple.

Reduced-Sugar Peach-Pineapple Spread

  • 4 cups drained peach pulp
  • 2 cups drained unsweetened crushed pineapple
  • 1/4 cup bottled lemon juice
  • 2 cups sugar (optional)

Yield: 5 to 6 half-pints

            Thoroughly wash 4 to 6 pounds of firm, ripe peaches. Drain well. Peel and remove pits. Grind fruit flesh with a medium or coarse blade, or crush with a fork (do not use a blender). Place ground or crushed fruit in a 2-quart saucepan. Heat slowly to release juice, stirring constantly, until fruit is tender. Place cooked fruit in a jelly bag or strainer lined with four layers of cheesecloth. Allow juice to drip about 15 minutes. Save the juice for jelly or other uses. Measure 4 cups of drained fruit pulp for making spread. Combine the 4 cups of pulp, pineapple, and lemon juice in a 4-quart saucepan. Add up to 2 cups of sugar, if desired, and mix well. Heat and boil gently for 10 to 15 minutes, stirring enough to prevent sticking. Fill sterilized jars quickly, leaving 1/4-inch headspace. Top with prepared lids and rings and process in a boiling water canner for 15 minutes for half-pints.

 

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