BY KIM HUGHES, EXTENSION OFFICE AGENT –
Cultivation of peaches began in China as early as 2000 B.C. By 300 B.C., Greeks and Persians were enjoying peaches. In the first century A.D., Romans began cultivating peaches. From Italy, the cultivation of peaches spread throughout Europe and to the Americas, where the early settlers planted them all along the eastern coast. By the mid-1700s, peaches were so plentiful in the United States that botanists thought of them as native fruits.
One large peach has only 68 calories, 17 grams of carbohydrates, 3 grams dietary fiber and 2 grams protein. They are fat free, cholesterol free, sodium free, and a good source of vitamins A and C.
For quicker ripening, place peaches in a single layer in a large paper bag. Fold the top down and check it every day to see if it is ripe. Peaches should not be refrigerated before ripe because this could cause them to lose flavor and have a mealy texture.
There are two basic types of peaches – clingstone and freestone. With clingstone peaches, the flesh “clings” to the “stone” of the peach, making it difficult to separate, and thus more suitable for processing and preserving into jams, jellies and preserves.
The pit of freestone peaches “freely” separates from the flesh, making it ideal for fresh consumption. They are generally larger than clingstones. Eat these fresh, frozen or dried.
To test them for ripeness, the fruit should feel firm, but have a little give. Most will have a sweet fragrance. Avoid peaches that are too soft, unless you plan to use them immediately.
Fresh peaches make great desserts and quick breads. Instead of peeling, remove the skin by dipping the peach in boiling water for 20 to 30 seconds. Then immediately dip into iced cold water and the skin will slip right off. Riper peaches need less scalding time to loosen the peels.
Remember peeled peaches brown rapidly when exposed to air. To prevent this, soak halves or slices for 5 minutes in 1 quart of water with 3 tablespoons lemon juice and 2 crushed 500-milligram vitamin C tablets.
Peaches are very versatile and can be tossed in brown sugar and added to waffles and pancakes; add slices to cereals, both hot and cold; put them in salads or smoothies, or puree them and add to homemade ice cream.