How I Lost My Peach Virginity

A crazy ripe peach is the epitome of all that is good and wonderful about eating what’s grown close to you, which is, by definition, seasonal. Of course, we can get peaches all year ’round now, as we can with just about any food. But whether you do or not comes down to how you define “peach.”


If your definition of a peach stops at “blushing orange orb,” then why wouldn’t you buy one in February (even if it is a bit firm)? But if “peach” to you means a “blushing orange orb that epitomizes the warmth of the summer sun and should come with a footnoted warning: Excess juice and high danger of drippage. Best eaten over a sink or outside on a stoop,” then it would make no sense at all to buy one in winter. And it wouldn’t irk you to wait for it, since your very definition of the fruit is inextricably tied to the whole experience of summer.

This may all sound grandiose, but I’m really just describing the shift that happened to my own perception of “peach” a few years back.

It had been a scorcher of a day, cooled at dusk by a breeze so refreshing it felt like taking a dip in a pool. I took a walk up to the orchard behind the house we were renting just to be outside. With each footfall, the earth exhaled the scent of warm straw and clay. In the orchard, shadows stretched across the rows of trees and one ruby-golden fruit with fuzz as rich as velvet called to me. It was like it had taken on the radiance of the sun and now glowed from within.

I picked it. I took a bite. And I’m not kidding you, I swooned. I’ve never liked being sticky, I think in large part because my mom never liked me being sticky. But I’ll tell you … I didn’t give a lick when that ambrosial nectar dripped down my forearms and off my elbows and into my hair. The farmer/poet/philosopher Mas Masumoto calls that moment “losing your peach virginity.” When I’d nibbled every last bit of flesh off that pit, I just stood there, trying to wrap my head around how freaking good that peach was. That moment painted the picture of “seasonal” for me like no magazine article or seminar sermon ever could, and I came away a changed woman.

So when should you make this Fiery-Sweet Salsa? Now … while the peaches are at their peak. Where should you get those peaches? From a farmer–or orchard–near you.

Peach Primer: 5 Ways with Fresh Peaches

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.

peach-primer-postChoosing Peaches

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.

Using Peaches

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.

Fiery-Sweet Peach Salsa

The heat of the jalapeno and bite of the red onion play nicely off the subtle sweetness of the peaches in this summery salsa recipe. Serve this peach salsa with just about anything grilled, from pork and chicken to salmon. Or if you’re like me, pop open a cold beer, rip open a bag of tortilla chips, and dig in! I like my salsa caliente, so I leave the seeds and stems in the chile pepper. To tame the heat, discard the stems and seeds.