We are fortunate to live in the Napa Valley with peach orchards nearby. We can enjoy juicy, tree-ripened peaches from May to September.
In China, where the peach originated, it is a symbol of longevity and immortality. There are thousands of peach varieties. The two main types are freestone and cling. With freestone peaches, the pit separates easily from the flesh. This type is easier to cook with as the peaches are easy to cut. Cling peaches behave as their name implies: the stone (pit) clings to the flesh, making these a bit of a challenge for cooking but fine for eating out of hand.
The Napa Farmers Market is the perfect place to buy peaches. You will find tree-ripened, sweet, juicy varieties you can’t find in a grocery store. They are picked by the grower when they are nearly ripe. Most supermarket peaches are picked under-ripe and firm to withstand shipping and handling, so they will never be as sweet as peaches from the farmers’ market.
If you are not eating or using them all in one day, select peaches with a range of ripeness so you can enjoy them throughout the week.
Peaches should smell sweet at the stem end and should have a little give at the shoulders. A red or pink blush does not indicate ripeness. Depending on the variety, peaches that are yellow all over can be fully ripe. Do avoid peaches with green spots, however. To speed up ripening, put firm peaches in a plastic or paper bag, but don’t wait too long. They ripen quickly.
The skin should be fuzzy with no wrinkles or bruises. I prefer medium-size peaches; large peaches can be less flavorful if they contain more water.
Store peaches stem end down at room temperature. When they are ripe, refrigerate them. They will keep for about three days.
Cooking a peach makes its flavor even more complex. You can grill peaches and add them to a salsa, sundae or salad. Put them on a pizza or pair with your favorite cheese. For pies, tarts and cobblers, select peaches that are firm and not fully ripe. If your peaches are super-ripe, make ice cream or sorbet. Ripe peaches are ideal for jam. For a savory main course, add them to the pan when you have finished sautéing pork, duck or chicken.
Chef Demonstration: Watch Chef JuJu from JuJu’s Mediterranean Kitchen prepare Middle Eastern Fava Bean Salad at the Napa Farmers Market on Saturday, July 1, at 11 a.m. The demonstration is free, and a recipe will be provided.
Chef Auguste Escoffier named this dish after Nellie Melba, the renowned Australian opera singer.
5 medium firm ripe peaches
Granulated sugar, as needed
1 cup (1/2 pint basket) raspberries
Lemon juice, as needed
1 quart vanilla ice cream
Chill serving bowls or glasses. To peel the peaches easily, dip them in boiling water and then in ice water for a few seconds to cool. Peel, then cut in half and remove the pit. Place the halves on a plate and sprinkle with a little sugar. Cover and refrigerate.
Puree the raspberries and 2 tablespoons sugar in a food processor, then pass through a fine-mesh strainer, pressing on the puree with a rubber spatula. Taste and adjust the sauce by adding more sugar or a few drops of lemon, if needed. Cover and refrigerate.
Just before serving, remove the bowls from the refrigerator. Place 2 to 3 small scoops of ice cream in each bowl. Top each portion with 2 peach halves and drizzle with a few tablespoons of raspberry sauce. Serve immediately.