I hail from California, which is the top peach-producing state. But it took a detour to Birmingham, Alabama, deep in the heart of Dixie, for me to fully appreciate the versatility of this stone fruit. There, residents take pride in Chilton County peaches, which are abundant, sweet, and fragrant. Come summer, the fruit fills local farmers’ markets and roadside stands. Chefs work them into menus, from salads to barbecue sauce to pies, crumbles, and ice cream.
Wherever you live, peaches are abundant now, so choose the best you can find. Ripe fruit should be heavy for its size, soft (but not mushy) to the touch, and smell sweet and slightly floral. Peaches fall into two categories: early-season clingstones and later-season freestones. With a clingstone, the flesh clings to the pit for dear life. To remove the pit, halve the fruit, twist the halves apart, and use a paring knife or spoon to loosen the pit so you can pull it out. With a freestone, you can halve the peach and the pit will pull away easily.
There are lots of ways to use peaches. By June, the weather in Birmingham would be stinkin’ hot and humid, and I found cool refreshment in the peach margaritas poured at the bar at Little Savannah. (The recipe is a closely guarded secret, so if you ever find yourself in Birmingham in summer, you’ll need to make a pilgrimage to get one.) In the meantime, here are five more ways to make the most of your peaches:
- In a salad: Slice peaches over arugula and toss with balsamic vinaigrette. Sprinkle with a little goat cheese.
- On the grill: Halve and pit peaches; brush the cut sides with a little vegetable oil. Put them cut-side-down on a hot grill, and cook until tender. Top with honey-sweetened Greek yogurt and chopped, toasted almonds.
- Baked in dessert: Substitute 4 cups chopped, peeled peaches and 2 cups fresh blueberries for the fresh cherries and cranberries in our Cherry Almond Crumble (omit the dried fruit).
- To drink: As I discovered in Alabama, peaches do well in libations. Substitute peach for watermelon and mint for basil in our Watermelon-Basil Agua Fresca. Add a splash of tequila if it has been a long week.
- As a condiment: I got a little homesick when living in Alabama, so salsa was my favorite way to use the annual bumper crop of peaches. A light supper of salad, quesadilla, and fresh peach salsa made me feel a little more at home in Dixie.