When I was a kid in Papua New Guinea, I yearned for peaches.
In the tropics, fresh peaches were magical and unattainable.
There were all sorts of amazing tropical fruits, including a wonderful palette of different kinds of bananas. But only canned peaches.
I was ungrateful. And homesick for New Zealand.
This year all my dreams have come true. My Hamilton backyard peach tree has been having a crazy, bumper crop.
This isn’t completely problem-free. Because I’ve had far more peaches than I know what to do with. I’ve been giving fruit away to friends and family, as fast as it drops off the tree.
With everything that’s going on in the world, too many peaches seems like a good problem to have.
The brief peach season
Peach (Prunus persica) is a deciduous fruit tree that’s originally from Northwest China. Peaches have been cultivated in that region for more than 8,000 years.
Fresh peaches don’t fit well in the supermarket food model. That’s why peaches are found most often in cans.
In late summer there are peaches for sale in fruit shops and at the farmers’ market. But, the flavour is pretty variable. I’ve often been disappointed when I buy peaches.
Peaches are fragile and they don’t keep well after picking, unlike nectarines. And, they start losing their flavour and aroma soon after they’re picked. They will continue to ripen for a few days off the tree, depending on the variety.
Also, peaches are prone to a bunch of fruit tree diseases. It’s hard to grow a crop of perfect peaches in the Waikato. It’s too humid in summer and not cold enough in winter.
Commercially grown peaches will almost certainly have been grown with toxic sprays.
My peach tree has at least three different diseases, plus birds. There are organic sprays that I could be using, that would make a difference.
But there are still plenty of peaches.
My peach tree is a variety called Gordon’s Glory. I chose it because it’s self-fertile – it doesn’t need a pollinator tree. And also, it grows well in the Waikato.
I planted this peach tree about 10 years ago. It’s taken a while to start producing. The plum trees that I planted at the same time started fruiting long ago.
The peaches on this tree don’t all ripen at the same time, which is a good thing.
When peaches are ripe, they just drop into your hand. It’s an amazing feeling.
If I don’t pick regularly, they drop onto the ground. My tree is over a paved area, and the peaches get bruised when they drop.
Don’t make this mistake! Plant the tree next to a flat lawn.
Garden designer Clare Jackson and I have co-written a book about growing backyard fruit trees, Fast Forward Your Home Orchard. It contains pretty much everything I wish I’d known when I planted my peach tree.
Good things to do with peaches
When you get hold of a perfect peach, the best thing to do is eat it, straight away.
Slices of peach are great with a cheese board. Or in a bowl of kefir or Caspian Sea yoghurt. Here’s how to make your own kefir or yoghurt.
Fresh raw peach slices go brown if you leave them for more than half an hour. You can reduce this by sprinkling the peach slices with lemon juice.
Free stone or cling stone
Gordon’s Glory is a cling stone peach. That means you can’t cut it open and take out the stone easily. This doesn’t matter when you’re just eating the peach, or when you’re cutting pieces to make jam or chutney.
To peel or not to peel
Many recipes specify peeling the soft peach skin. Peeling peaches is too fiddly for me. (I don’t peel tomatoes either.) In my opinion it doesn’t make much difference with the following recipes.
Apart from eating the peaches fresh, my next favourite way to use peaches is to dry the slices in a dehydrator. It’s fiddly and time consuming, but the results are worth it.
The little brown dried peach scraps don’t look very interesting, but they taste wonderful.
They’re great in muesli or just as snacks. Or in a nice jar as a gift.
I love this peach chutney. It comes out a rusty red colour, like loquat or quince chutney.
3 kg peach chunks – measure after removing the stones. Cut the peach pieces into chunks, approx. 2cm square. I don’t bother peeling.
2 cups sugar – I use fairtrade, organic golden sugar from Trade Aid
2 teaspoons salt
2 tablespoons finely grated root ginger
1 small hot chilli, finely chopped
3 cups apple cider vinegar – I still have some home-made cider vinegar from last year’s windfall apples. Here’s how to make your own apple cider vinegar.
Place all ingredients in a large stainless steel saucepan.
Bring to the boil.
Simmer gently for three or four hours, until the chutney has thickened. Stir regularly to make sure it isn’t sticking on the bottom of the pan.
The chutney has a chunky texture.
Pour the chutney into clean hot jars and seal.
This quantity makes about six jars of chutney.
This is my favourite ice-cream. I like it even better than home-made strawberry ice-cream. Peaches and cream just belong together.
It doesn’t look like anything special. The fresh peach pulp starts going brownish. But the flavour is divine.
There’s hardly any sugar in this ice-cream, because the peaches are ripe and sweet. You could use more sugar than I’ve suggested, depending on personal taste.
2 cups peach chunks – the riper the better
¾ cup cream
2 tablespoons kefir or yoghurt
3 tablespoons sugar
½ teaspoon vanilla extract
A tiny pinch of salt
Mash the peach chunks – or if the pieces are too firm to mash, whizz them in a blender.
Add 2 tablespoons of sugar and stir.
Place in the fridge until the sugar has dissolved.
Whip the cream until fairly still.
Stir in vanilla and one tablespoon of sugar.
Combine the cream, the peach mush and the kefir or yoghurt. Stir gently, just until moxed.
Place in the freezer for a couple of hours, until it freezes. Stir the mixture a couple of times while it’s freezing.
Note: if you don’t plan to eat all the ice-cream at one go, freeze it in small pots.
Peaches with red wine
A very simple French-style dessert.
Slice a peach into a wine glass.
Sprinkle with a little sugar.
Pour red table wine over the peach slices.
Eat straight away.
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