Marialisa Calta Photo
“An apple is an excellent thing — until you have tried a peach,” said George du Maurier, a 19th-century British cartoonist and novelist.
This is the summer to try a peach. Succulent, sweet, juicy peaches are in abundance, thanks in part (according to some news reports) to the drought that has hit many peach-growing parts of the country. Excessive rain, one grower told a TV reporter, makes the peaches watery and less sweet; dry conditions leave them smaller but tastier.
What to do with all those peaches? The obvious answer: Eat them. “Peaches and cream” is not just a flattering description for a woman’s complexion; it’s a recipe for dessert. Drizzle sliced peaches with a bit of light or heavy cream, or creme fraiche, and you have a heavenly dessert. Pair peaches with luscious Greek yogurt. Make peach shortcake.
Peaches, according to “The Oxford Companion to Food,” are an ancient fruit that originated in China and became so popular they traveled the world. Persians claimed them as “Persian apples,” and by the time of the American Revolution, even people in the United States thought they were native to this country.
Alan Davidson, editor of the “Oxford Companion,” writes that peaches are the most celebrated fruit in literature, with the possible exception of the cherry. The Greek philosopher Theophrastus wrote about peaches, as did Pliny, Virgil, Emile Zola, T.S. Eliot and Mark Twain. Zola, apparently, was the originator of the “peaches and cream” description; he likened the complexions of the girls of southern France to that country’s famous Montreuil peaches.
Renoir and Picasso loved to paint this sensual fruit. When legendary French chef Auguste Escoffier wanted to honor soprano Nellie Melba, he did it with peaches (and gave us peach Melba to enjoy ever after).
One of my favorite ways to enjoy peaches and cream is in homemade ice cream. The recipe below can’t be beat.
Peach ice cream
Yield: 6 cups, or 12 servings
3 large egg yolks
¾ cup sugar
2 cups heavy (whipping) cream
½ cup whole milk
5 medium peaches (1¾ to 2 pounds)
1 teaspoon almond extract
Juice of half a lemon
Fresh raspberries or sliced peaches, for serving (optional)
In a medium bowl, whisk together egg yolks and ½ cup of the sugar. Set aside.
Fill a large bowl halfway with ice and cold water. Set out a smaller bowl (with a minimum capacity of 2 quarts) that will fit inside the larger bowl.
In the top of a double boiler set over simmering water, heat the cream and milk until bubbles just begin to form on the surface. Do not let the mixture boil.
Add about ½ cup of the hot cream to the egg yolk mixture and whisk briskly to combine. Stir yolk mixture into the remaining cream in the double boiler and whisk well. Cook over simmering water, stirring constantly with a stainless steel or wooden spoon, until the mixture thickens slightly and coats the back of the spoon, about 5 minutes. Remove from the heat and pour into the smaller bowl that you have set out. Place this bowl into the prepared ice-water bath. Stir gently to cool the mixture.
When the ice cream base is cooled to room temperature, cover and refrigerate until thoroughly chilled, at least 2 hours or overnight (recommended).
Bring a pot of water to a boil. Meanwhile, use a sharp paring knife to cut an X in the bottom of the skin of each peach. Working in batches, plunge the peaches into the boiling water for 1 to 2 minutes, remove with a slotted spoon and, when cool enough to handle, slip off the peels. Cut the peaches in half, remove and discard the pits, and cut the flesh into ¼-inch pieces. You should have about 2 cups of fruit.
Sprinkle the peaches with the remaining ¼ cup of sugar, the almond extract and lemon juice. Let the peaches sit at least 30 minutes at room temperature for the flavors to blend.
Puree half of the peaches in the bowl of a food processor or in a blender. Stir the peach puree into the chilled ice cream base. Then stir in the remaining cup of peach chunks.
Freeze the mixture in an ice cream maker following the manufacturer’s instructions. You can serve it immediately or pack it into an airtight plastic container and freeze until firm, 3 to 4 hours. It will keep for several weeks in the freezer.
Serve with sliced peaches or raspberries, if desired.
Marialisa Calta is a syndicated food writer who lives in Calais.MORE IN Food & Dining
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