“An apple is an excellent thing — until you have tried a peach.” George du Maurier, Franco-British writer
Belinda Smith-Sullivan’s love of peaches “goes way back” to Edgefield County, South Carolina, the “peach capital of the south,” and to summer spent in Charleston, Mississippi, on her grandparents farm.
“My grandmother, cousins and I would spend hours on the front porch peeling and slicing peaches, getting them ready to be canned and made into preserves or peach brandy,” writes the author of “Just Peachy” (Gibbs/Smith, $21.99). “I never complained because, if memory serves me, I ate one peach for every two peaches I peeled.”
Her grandfather was a share-cropper; the house didn’t have running water, but every day, her grandmother would turn out a memorable breakfast with hand-churned butter and homemade peach preserves that “the stars of the breakfast table,” that awaited the new batch of “big fat biscuits.”
Smith-Sullivan went on to receive a degree in culinary arts from Johnson & Wales University, and become a chef, food writer, entrepreneur and commercially rated pilot. Nonetheless, she writes, “I learned how to cook in my grandmother’s modest kitchen, where there are only a wood-burning stove in the middle of the room and a small sink in the corner.”
Smith-Sullivan, who writes for South Carolina Living and Bella magazines, shares both stories and recipes from her youth and her career in her comprehensive guide to peaches, “Just Peachy.”
“Since those long-ago summers on the farm with my grandparents, I have spent much of my life experimenting with peaches and my world has expanded beyond the peach pie and preserves of my youth,” she writes in her introduction and on the following pages she shares the history of peaches (they originated in China) and interesting facts: (Peaches, “known as the ‘fruit of calmness’ are said to reduce anxiety.” Also, “Peaches are considered a symbol of good luck, unity and immortality.”)
She also covers how to store and preserve peaches, the best uses for different varieties (there are more than 2,000 varieties of peaches worldwide) and includes a nifty list of peach festivals in the U.S., should you want to plan a tour of America, by peaches. (Not a bad idea, really).
The stars, of course, are her recipes. Expanding her early repertoire of preserves and peach pies, Smith-Sullivan shares ways to savor peaches from breakfast (Buttermilk Peach Waffles) to dinner (Spicy Oven Ribs with Peach Barbecue Sauce.)
My only complaint about the book is that many of the savory recipes call for her own commercial spice blends, with no indication of what spices she includes or where to find them. (You can track them down to her website.)
She offers unusual recipes like Chilled Peach Mint Soup, Peach Stuffed Porkchops and Peach-Sweet Potato Casserole as well as an extensive inventory of sauces, condiments and beverages.
Then there are the desserts: Old-Fashioned Peach Pie, Coconut-Peach Cake, Blueberry-Peach Slump, Blackberry-Peach Buckle, Country Peach Tart, Raspberry-Peach Crumble, Peach Cobbler, Peach-Amaretto Ice Cream and Peach Upside-Down Cake.
“Nothing, absolutely nothing, evokes the memory of my mother or my grandmother more clearly than than a peach pie still warm from the oven,” she writes. “While I have nearly perfected their recipes, I can tell you that mine never seem to taste quite like theirs, and I suspect they never will.”
Bring on summer.
Author’s note: The buckle, the almost-forgotten American pie, was the precursor to the coffee cake. While the preparations are similar, a coffee cake will generally be finished on top with a layer of streusel. Not so for the buckle, which is finished with more of the fruit for which it is named. Feel free to make this recipe using raspberries, blueberries or any berries of your choice. For a more rustic presentation, this dish is spectacular when served in a cast iron skillet.
2 cups all-purpose flour
2 tsp. baking powder
1/2 tsp. kosher salt
1/2 tsp. cardamon
8 Tbsp. unsalted butter, room temperature
3/4 cup sugar
1 large egg, room temperature
1 tsp. vanilla extract
1/2 cup milk
2 to 3 peaches, sliced, (peeled or unpeeled)
1 pint blackberries
Confectioners sugar for dusting
Preheat the oven to 350 degrees. Spray a 9-inch springform pan with baking spray.
In a medium bowl, combine the flour, baking powder, salt and cardamom.
In the bowl of a stand mixer, cream the butter until it is pale yellow. Add the sugar and continue beating until thoroughly mixed. Add the egg and vanilla. Add the flour mixture, alternating with the milk until well mixed.
Pour the batter into the prepared pan and add the peaches and blackberries, spreading evening in a pretty design.
Bake for 1 hour or until golden brown and a cake tester inserted into the center comes out clean.
Let cool completely in pan. Remove sides and dust with confectioners’ sugar.
Serve at room temperature.