One of America's favorite fruits, the peach
(once knows as the Persian apple) has its roots in the Orient.
The peach is
native to China.
Cultivation began more than 2000 years ago and within a
few centuries, the peach became China's most important and sought after fruit.
Westerners discovered the peach in Persia during the conquest of Alexander the
Great. It was named persica.
Biologists believe that the peach was brought
to North America from Europe on Columbus's second voyage. Soon after, early in
the sixteenth century, Spaniards planted peach trees at St. Augustine, Florida.
From there, peach orchards spread all the way to the Mississippi, while in 1524
the conquistador Pedro de Alvarado introduced the fruit to the Central America
highlands. Seedlings from the trees there, along with their East Coast cousin,
are believed to be the peach forebears of the California stock.
Chinese fascination for the sweetness and exquisite flavor of this fruit led
them to create superstitions about it, one of which attributes it with the
power to confer immortality.
Traders soon introduced the peach to the Near
East via caravan along the Silk Road. In the first century B.C., Pompey the
Great planted his Roman orchards with peach trees that had been obtained in
Persia-hence the fruit's other appellation, the Persian apple.
Its name has
achieved the status of a superlative in our everyday conversation: "peachy
keen," "skin like peaches and cream," or "she's a peach."
California produces about 60 percent-and nearly all of the clingstone
varieties-of U.S. peaches. And although Georgia's license plates claim it as
the "peach state," it ranks second (South Carolina is number three). But
peaches can be grown successfully in many states- from Pennsylvania, Virginia,
and New Jersey to Washington and Oregon. With more than 2.5 billion pounds of
peaches harvested in 2001, the United States has become a world leader in the
production of peaches, along with Italy, Spain, and India.
Ontario is the largest producer of Canadian peaches (about 80 per
The peach is a close relative of the apricot, almond, cherry and
Most of the several hundred varieties of peaches had appeared before
the beginning of the twentieth century. Peach trees don't flourish everywhere.
Being delicate, they tend to benefit from warmer daytime temperatures.
However, for optimal growth and flavor they still require approximately 500
hours per year of temperatures below 45 degrees Fahrenheit. Harsh weather
remains a constant threat.
Peaches are at their best when picked ripe and plump.
But be gentle;
this is also when these tender fruit are most fragile. The best place to eat a
ripe peach is in an orchard, straight from the tree, warm and sun ripened.
Peaches fall into two categories:
Clingstone and freestone.
a clingstone peach, the pit "clings" to the flesh.
Freestone peaches, have
pits that falls away easily.
With semi-freestone peaches (which are the
earlier ripening varieties) the flesh clings to the pit, making them difficult
to prepare for cooking.
The edible skin of the peach is fairly thin, downy,
and yellowish to crimson in color. The flesh of the ripe peach is yellow or
greenish white, and is juicy, sweet, and fragrant.
The white variety, the
traditional peach of the Orient is more perishable but also sweeter and juicier
with a milder flavor and accounts for over 25 % of the market in France.
is also sold commercially in limited quantities in North America.
The background color should be overall creamy, yellow or
A green background means the peach was picked too soon and will
not ripen further.
Buy peaches with unbruised and unwrinkled skin. Peaches
spoil very easily, even when unripe. Ripen at room temperature in a paper bag.
To pick a perfect peach, look for a creamy-gold or yellow skin and a
pleasant aroma. A rosy-red blush is indicative of certain varieties, not
ripeness. When fruit is ready, it yields to gentle pressure. Keep peaches at
room temperature, out of direct sunlight.
To encourage ripening, store
peaches in a loosely closed paper bag. Once ripe, they will keep in the
refrigerator for a few days, but for the best flavor bring peaches to room
temperature before serving. Peaches not only taste great, they are a healthy
A medium-sized peach has less than 50 calories and is a source
of potassium as well as soluble and insoluble fibre. The insoluble fibre in
peaches aids digestion while the soluble fibre, also known as pectin, lowers
blood cholesterol. Be sure to eat the skin for maximum fibre. Antioxidant
vitamins such as A, C and E are also present in peaches and not only are
essential for healthy bones, teeth and gums but have been shown to be a defence
against heart disease, some cancers, stroke and cataracts.
before eating (not before storing), so that the skin isn't damaged and so mold
does not grow on the skin.
To peel peaches or nectarines, immerse the fruit
in boiling water for about 30 seconds, lift out and plunge into ice water. When
cool, slip off skins. Slice around the natural seam; twist peach or nectarine
in half to remove pit.
Cut semi-freestone fruit away from pit in quarters
To prevent browning, sprinkle with lemon juice or a fruit
preserative that contains ascorbic acid.