Summer Peaches in all their glory
Good old-fashioned varieties of peaches bring back memories of my childhood in New Jersey (“The Garden State”). Along with corn, tomatoes and bluberries, farmstand produce was what I grew up eating in summer. Back then, I could travel by bike less than a mile from my home and run into relatively small patches of cultivated land where all kinds of wonderful produce was grown. Nowadays, those farms are gone, having been bulldozed into oblivion and replaced with cookie-cutter, though luxurious, suburban McMansions, inhabited by who commute by rail to work in The Big Apple. Hard to believe that so much has changed, and with those changes has come the loss of many heirloom varieties of fruits such as peaches. Luckily, however, for us fruit (and vegetable) lovers, many tasty varieties are now being grown by the next generation of farmers hell bent on reclaiming the flavors of the past. But even among those revived heirlooms, not all peaches are created equal. Taste before you buy. Some are just sweet and one dimensional in flavor; worse still, others are tasteless, hybridized to last on supermarket shelves and never fully ripen once off the tree before rotting. But the peaches grown south of Fresno, CA by Mas Masumoto and family (www.masumoto.com), in particular, the Sun Crest variety that I have been savoring lately (thanks to www.melissas.com) brings me back to my childhood. These fruits are juicy, sweeet/tart, freestone and simply fabulous.
If you find a good peach, there’s no better way to enjoy it than simply eating it out of hand, with juice dripping down your hand and down your chin, in short, a two-napkin piece of fruit. Beyond that, as wonderful as stone fruits are on their own, there is no better summer pie than the one made with a combination of sweet and tart peaches. And let’s not forget about freshly churned ice cream fragrant with chunks of fresh peach, or thick golden peach jam spread on your morning toast. Yet at times during the summer when I feel that I have gotten my fill of fresh stone fruit simply eaten out of hand or used in sweet preparations (“HOW IS THAT POSSIBLE?” I might think, in the middle of winter), I am inspired to use them as the centerpiece of a savory concoction. As in the accompanying recipe, peaches and tomatoes are unexpectedly and deliciously used side by side. Ricotta is set into an herbed rich crust and baked up into a rustic open-faced crostata topped with the peaches and tomatoes. As a final touch, crisped-up prosciutto and Parmigiano Reggiano may be strewn onto the crostatas which are then lightly dusted with a sprinkling of freshly ground black pepper. Just like eating perfectly ripe fruits in season from the farmers’ market, this too spells summer for me.