By Bonnie Fishman / San Francisco Bay Area
I was born in West Branch, a small community in northern Michigan and raised on Peach Lake (of all things!) every summer of my life until I turned 20. My family owned a summer camp nearby and we lived an idyllic, carefree life on the lake. Did my love for peaches occur naturally, being the name of my birth place? Hard to say. Oddly enough, the lake wasn’t shaped like a peach or bordered by peach orchards.
If it’s summer, it must be peach season. Stone fruits abound all across the country, appearing first in warmer climes, such as the South, Southwest, and California. Eventually, they start appearing at farm stands in the Midwest and Northeast.
When I lived in Michigan, I sought out those high-quality Georgia peaches for my own personal use and to share with friends. The Peach Truck, www.thepeachtruck.com is a business in Nashville that packs up the most perfect peaches in 10 lb boxes each summer, loads them onto a refrigerated truck, and travels north, stopping in locations in various states to bring their prized produce to us Northerners.
One bite of this tasty fruit will explain why Georgia is known as The Peach State
In the summer of 2019, while I still lived in my home state, I caught wind that the Peach Truck was coming to a business near my home. My friend Lynn and I lined up with another 80 or so people in order to get our allotment. You paid while in line, and when you got up to the truck, they handed you as many boxes as you had ordered, and you were on your way. Very efficient. Those peaches were the real deal: sweet and juicy. If you bit into one, you better be standing over a sink to catch the juice!
I always thought Georgia was the largest peach producing state. But it turns out that Georgia’s reputation as the Peach State comes from quality rather than quantity. For example, in 2021, Georgia yielded 35 tons of peaches; South Carolina yielded 72 tons and California harvested more than 130 tons of peaches.
But don’t get too excited about buying Georgia peaches this year. “Georgia lost over 90 percent of its peach crops due to the record-setting warm weather in traditionally colder months, leaving the crops to suffer,” according to CNN. South Carolina suffered damaging weather, too, which caused them to lose 70 percent of their crop. We will have to turn to California peaches this summer.
In fall of 2021, the Fishman Compound here in California decided to establish a fruit orchard on our property. Everyone had an opinion about what to plant (of course we did! ). Our orchard contains many different varieties of fruit to satisfy everyone’s wishes. If you know anything about planting infant fruit trees, they don’t bear much fruit the first couple of years. For example, last year, we had one cherry. This year there were 10. If we lived on the prairie like author Laura Ingalls Wilder, we’d starve to death!
We have managed to grow several of these luscious peaches. Unfortunately, small critters come out at night and have discovered them. I love it: we plant trees to feed the rodents!
Peaches are one of those fruits that I’m particular about. I, like many people, don’t care for peaches that have an excessive amount of that textural “fuzz.” The fuzz is actually a protective coating to keep the fruit safe from insects and other pests. That’s why I usually prefer nectarines, which are part of the peach family, but have a smooth skin.
The peaches that lure me are large, naturally ripened ones. When you bite into them, the juices run down your arms. You are a sticky mess, but who cares? The flavor is worth it!
I also prefer freestone peaches, as they’re easier to eat and certainly easier to bake with. Last month, I hosted a cooking class party for 16 students. I foolishly offered Grilled Peach Melba before the freestone fruits were in season. I wrestled the pits out of those babies for more time than I wanted to spend. It was especially difficult because I needed the peaches to be in tidy halves, not mauled!
There are many uses for peaches besides eating them plain. They are a delightful addition to any fruit salad or a tossed green salad. I usually put in nuts, and feta or goat cheese, when making a tossed salad, as the flavors and texture are a nice pairing with soft, sweet peaches. Peach devotees also make jams, chutneys, salsas, or BBQ sauce for grilled meats and chicken.
If you are inundated with peaches, you can always freeze them. I cut them half, remove the stone, and freeze them in a single layer on a cookie sheet. When frozen, I gather them up into a Ziploc freezer bag. When you defrost the peaches this way, you have options as to what to do with them.
I had a difficult time deciding which peach recipe I was going to offer this week, because I use this fruit in pies, flans, galettes, crisps, and cobblers. I’m going with the iconic Peach Cobbler, made with a quick buttermilk biscuit topping. The recipe is easy, so give it a try!
When you bite into that perfectly sweet, ripe peach this summer, tell us here at The Insider what you plan to do with your own stockpile of peaches!
Yield: 6 servings
6 c. fresh sliced peaches, peeled (see directions below)
1/2 c. sugar
3 Tbsp. flour
1 tsp. cinnamon
2/3 c. flour
1/4 c. sugar
1/2 tsp. baking powder
1/2 tsp. baking soda
2 Tbsp. cold butter or margarine, cut into 1/4” bits
1/2 c. warm buttermilk
Bring a pot of water to a boil. Boil half of the peaches for 30-60 seconds or until the skins peel off easily. The riper the fruit, the less time it needs to be boiled. Pit and cut peaches into 1/4” slices.
Prepare the pans: Spray six 8 oz. ramekins or one 8” round shallow casserole with pan release. Preheat oven to 350°.
Make filling: Toss the peaches, sugar, flour, and cinnamon together in a large mixing bowl. Divide among the ramekins or put in the casserole.
Make topping: Combine the flour, sugar, powder and soda in a mixing bowl. “Cut” the butter into the dry ingredients using your fingertips until it resembles coarse meal. Stir in the warm buttermilk until JUST blended.
Assembly: Using a large spoon, pour the topping over the peaches, smoothing with the back of the spoon. Bake until golden brown and the fruit is bubbly, about 35 minutes. Serve warm or at room temperature. Vanilla ice cream or whipped cream is a nice accompaniment.
Bonnie Fishman attended the Cordon Bleu Cookery School in London. Later, she owned and operated Bonnie’s Patisserie in Southfield, Mich. and Bonnie’s Kitchen and Catering in Bloomfield Hills, Mich. She has taught cooking for over 35 years and created hundreds of recipes. She is now living in Northern California.