Growing up in Hawaii, peaches were an exotic and special treat. My family took a vacation to California when I was about seven years old and I discovered fresh, ripe, aromatic peaches for the first time. California peaches were a revelation compared to the hard and tasteless peaches that were shipped to Hawaii. Funny how the meaning of "exotic" depends on where you come from.
The history of the peach
Peaches originated in China and spread to the rest of the world via the silk road. Peaches are closely related to both almonds and roses. China remains the number one producer of peaches, and Italy is the second. Georgia produces 50% of the peaches in the United States.
For me, peaches mean summer, which makes sense as the prime peach season is June through August. You may be able to buy an early peach or two in May, or find a late peach in September, but they are often hard, mealy, tasteless and without that beautiful peach fragrance. The best juiciest, most aromatic peaches are found in the core months of summer.
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Low calorie, anti-diabetic and antiobesity
Even a large peach contains only 70 calories, with most peaches coming in between 35 and 50 calories. There is no fat in a peach. OK, there is .2 grams of fat in a medium peach, which is virtually zero fat. I find this amazing when I think of the satisfaction I get from eating a ripe juicy peach.
Numerous nutritional and health benefits
Peaches are loaded with vitamins A, B, C and E. They contain antioxidants, potassium and iron. They are anti-inflammatory and reduce LDL (bad cholesterol). They support the eyes, skin, kidneys, blood and nervous system. Peaches are thought to reduce stress and are considered by some to be an aphrodisiac. Really, how could you not want to eat a peach?
Clingstone vs. freestone peaches
If you are eating a peach it doesn't really matter what kind you buy, but if you are cooking with peaches and need to remove the pit, buy freestone peaches. Clingstone peaches have pits that adhere to the peach flesh. In freestone peaches, the stone separates easily from the pit.
Buying and storing peaches
Peaches are ripe when they yield to light pressure and produce an aromatic peach smell. Store peaches at room temperature until they are ripe. Avoid stacking peaches. They prefer to be left alone with a little airspace between them and the next peach. To hasten ripening, put peaches in a closed paper bag. It is best to eat peaches as they ripen, but if you need to extend their life, store ripe peaches in the fridge for a day or two at most.
Peaches freeze very well, but you need to remove their skins first. Skinned peaches darken quickly, so peel, pit and slice them, and then dunk them in a lemon and water solution. Spread the peach pieces on a tray and put in the freezer. Once the peach pieces have frozen you can remove them from the trays and store them in a ziplock bag.
How to peel peaches
Much of the nutritional value of peaches is in the peach skin, so all things being equal, eat the skin. If you must peel peaches, the technique is similar to tomatoes. Cut a small "X" in the bottom of the peach and drop into a pot of boiling water for about 30 seconds. If the peach is not quite ripe it may take another 10-30 seconds. Remove the peach from the boiling water and dunk into an ice bath. Remove the peach from the ice bath and slip the skins off with your fingers.