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Peaches are a positively perfect dessert

In China, where peaches originated, the peach has mystical attributes, and supposedly brings luck, abundance and protection. Peaches growing in north China in areas of erosion and overgrazing became a symbol of fertility and affection. Once discovered, these wild Chinese peaches traveled widely and developed into many strains.

The Romans called the peaches “Persian Apples,” naming them after the country that introduced peaches to the west. The peach spread to the New World on Spanish explorers’ ships. Several tribes of Native American Indians were particularly fond of peaches, and cultivated them assiduously. It is probable that the spread of peaches was due to the Native Americans. Thomas Jefferson planted peaches at Monticello in 1802.

Peaches found a home in the southern states that had enough warmth to give them ideal growing conditions.

Georgia was named the “Peach State” for its abundant output. But peaches traveled up the eastern seaboard, and when “go west, young man” sent thousands of youths trekking across the country, dried peaches were part of the journey.

Never ask where the best peaches come from. A southerner will claim his state (Alabama has Chilton County) and a northerner from New Jersey will say his white Jersey peaches are the best. Today California is the major producer of peaches, followed by South Carolina and Georgia.

No matter where the peaches come from, there are no peaches quite as good as the ones picked ripe and sold at the roadside stand. I remember as a child sitting on our back porch eating those good sweet peaches, with the juice dripping down my mouth. Those are good summer memories.

Peaches are good for you too. A medium peach has only 35 calories — a perfect snack or dessert. Peaches are fine sources of Vitamin A as well as C and E. They are a good source of fiber. Because of the speed of picking to processing, canned peaches are equally as nutritious as fresh peaches. And please buy American peaches, which conform to the stringent standards both agriculturally and in their manufacture.

I have been using peaches in desserts lately and have found them to be so refreshing after a summer meal. Try this recipe from “A Platter of Figs” by David Tanis.

Peaches in Wine

8 ripe peaches

2-3 tablespoons sugar

1 bottle (750 ml) dry white wine or rosé

Peel the peaches with a sharp paring knife. Slice the fruit and put in a bowl. Sprinkle with the sugar and toss gently. Pour the wine over the fruit, cover, and refrigerate for several hours.

To serve, spoon the peach slices into shallow bowls or glasses, adding half a cup of the winey juices to each.

Unlike cobblers, this dessert is topped with a sweetened biscuit-like batter. It is a perfect summertime dessert and easy to make. From Donald Link’s cookbook, “Real Cajun” comes:

Fresh Peach Buckle

Buckle batter:

1 cup milk

4 eggs

2 teaspoons vanilla extract

3 ½ cups all-purpose flour

1 tablespoon baking powder

1 teaspoon salt

1 cup (2 sticks) butter, at room temperature

1 cup granulated sugar

5 medium peaches, peeled, seeded, and cut into 1-inch cubes (about 3 cups)

Crumble topping:

1 cup all-purpose flour

4 tablespoons (1/2 stick) butter, cut into pieces

¼ cup granulated sugar

¼ cup brown sugar

½ teaspoon ground cinnamon

Preheat the oven to 350 degrees. Butter a 9-by-13-inch baking dish.

In a small bowl, combine the milk, eggs and vanilla. In a separate bowl, whisk together the flour, baking powder and salt.

In the bowl of an electric mixer fitted with the paddle attachment, cream the butter and sugar on medium speed until light and fluffy, about two minutes. Reduce the speed to low and alternately add the dry and wet ingredients (beginning and ending with the dry), until the batter is smooth. Add the peaches and stir by hand until just combined.

Scrape the batter into the prepared baking dish. In a small bowl, use a fork or your fingers to combine the crumble topping ingredients. Crumble the topping over the batter and bake for about 45 minutes, until the buckle is golden on top and springy to the touch. Serve warm or at room temperature.

There is nothing like peach fried pies. Every time I go up I-65 to Birmingham, I stop at Durbin Farms in Clanton to get some fried pies for the road. These are wonderful. If you are in the indulgent mindset, fry some of your own in clarified butter and top with ice cream. This recipe is taken from “Screen Doors and Sweet Tea,” by Martha Hall Foose.

Peach Fried Pie

(Makes 10 3-inch pies)

Pastry:

2 cups unbleached all-purpose flour

2 teaspoons baking powder

¾ teaspoon salt

6 tablespoons vegetable shortening or lard

¾ cup whole milk

Filling

2 cups chopped fresh or frozen peaches

½ cup packed light brown sugar

½ teaspoon ground allspice

2 tablespoons cider vinegar

1 teaspoon cornstarch

1 teaspoon fresh lemon juice

2 tablespoons granulated sugar

½ teaspoon ground cinnamon

1 large egg

Canola oil, for frying

Make the pastry: In a large bowl, combine the flour, baking powder, and salt. Cut in the shortening until no pieces are larger than a pea. Add the milk and combine, using a fork. Gather the dough and knead lightly for one minute. Wrap in plastic and refrigerate while preparing the filling.

Make the filling: In a medium heavy-bottomed saucepan, combine the peaches, brown sugar and allspice. Cook and stir over medium for five minutes, or until the sugar is dissolved and the peaches are juicy. In a small bowl, combine the vinegar and cornstarch. Add to the peaches and cook and stir for 10 minutes, or until the mixture is thick and glossy. Stir in the lemon juice. Transfer the mixture to a shallow dish and to cool.

In a small shallow dish, combine the granulated sugar and cinnamon. Set aside.

Make the pies: Roll the dough 1/8-inch thick on a lightly floured surface. With a sharp knife or cutter, cut 10 6-inch circles. Place two tablespoons of peach filling in the center of each circle. Beat the egg with one teaspoon water. Brush a thin line of egg wash around the edge of the circles. Fold to form a half-moon shape. Lightly press out the air pockets. Press the edges with the tines of a fork to seal. Pierce one time on top of each pie with a fork to let steam escape while frying.

Heat 1 inch of canola oil in a large skillet to 375 degrees. Set a wire rack over a baking sheet lined with newspaper or paper towels.

Gently place the pies, two at a time, pierced side up, in the skillet. Fry to golden brown, turning only once, two minutes per side. Remove from oil and let drain briefly on the wire rack. Toss in the cinnamon sugar and allow to cool for five minutes.