by Rebecca Dumais
We've got it way too good when it comes to the availability of local fruits and vegetables, looking easily to the Niagara Region for our fix of luscious peaches when they're in season from mid July to the end of September. At one time in history, only the Chinese were lucky enough to enjoy this golden fruit. Peaches were mentioned in Chinese texts as far back as the 10th century B.C. and were a fond favourite of emperors.
The fruit received its English name from the Latin plural of persicum malum, which translates to Persian apple. In Middle English, it became peche (very similar to the French word), and is more similar to its name today.
Peaches were harvested from China by the Persians and passed on to the Romans. Spanish explorers brought peaches to America in the 16th century. Some Native American tribes are thought to have proliferated the peach tree across the U.S. via their nomadic lifestyle. Eventually, it made its way to England and France in the 17th century, where it was considered a rare treat. During Queen Victoria's time, no meal was said to be complete without a fresh peach.
According to the Ontario Ministry of Agriculture Food & Rural Affairs, peaches were being harvested at the mouth of the Niagara River in the early 1790s, as well as in neaby Grimsby. Peach growing was a booming industry for the Niagara Peninsula in 1880 with 70,000 baskets of peaches shipped within a radius of two miles from the Grimsby railway station alone.
Pick your Peach
There are two types of peaches that we can look forward to each year: semi-freestone and freestone peaches.
Semi-freestone peaches, which are available from mid July to mid August, are the best for eating on their own out-of-hand. The flesh of the peach partially clings to the pit. Types available include: Harrow Diamond, Springcrest, Candor, Harrow Dawn, Early Redhaven, Garnet Beauty, Risingstar, Brighton, Sunhaven, Harbelle and Sentinel.
Freestone peaches, which are available from mid August to the end of September are perfect for eating fresh and best for preserving. The flesh is easily separated from the pit. Types of freestone peaches include: Redhaven, Vivid, Harbite, Harson, Blazingstar, Harrowfair, Starfire, Veeglo, Harrow Beauty, Loring, PF24, Allstar, Coralstar, Cresthaven, Redskin, Glowingstar and Harcrest.
Whether you're shopping at the farmer's market or the grocery store, look for a creamy or yellow background, not green. Don't be afraid to buy firm fruit.
Sometimes peeling peaches and nectarines can be a bit tricky. For best results, dip peaches in boiling water for 30 to 60 seconds, then immediately place in ice water. The skins will then rub off easily by hand.
To freeze and enjoy peaches and nectarines late into the season and beyond; peel, pit and slice, then add a half cup of granulated sugar and one quarter cup fruit preservative to four cups of sliced peaches. Pack tightly into plastic containers, making sure to leave enough room for air circulation at the top of the container. Place a sheet of wax paper over top, then seal tightly. This will allow storage for up to a year.
Like your fruit looking flawless? To prevent the fruit from browning, coat sliced peaches with lemon juice or fruit preservative immediately after slicing.
The Perfect Peach
Ontario Tender Fruit Producers offer five steps to peach perfection.
- Select fruit that is firm and fragrant. Be aware that the blush of a peach does not indicate ripeness, but is a way of identifying the variety.
- Remove fruit immediately from the container in which it was purchased and sort according to ripeness.
- Store ripe fruit in the refrigerator or enjoy right away.
- To ripen firm fruit, store at room temperature and out of direct sunlight in a loosely closed paper bag for a day or two. Note: plastic bags are not suitable for ripening fruit, as they will trap moisture and air, which can cause premature spoilage, so always use paper bags.
- Once ripe, store fruit in the refrigerator for up to one week or enjoy right away. Fruit is ready when it's aromatic and yields to gentle pressure. Never wash fruit before storing. Instead, wait until you're ready to eat.
Did You Know?
- In China, peaches are considered a symbol of immortality and friendship.
- The Niagara Fruit Belt produces 90 per cent of Ontario's tender fruit crop.
- The Niagara Fruit Belt spans approximately 66 km, mainly below the Niagara Escarpment along the south shore of Lake Ontario, from Hamilton to Niagara-On-the-Lake.
- Peach seeds are closely related to almonds; therefore peach seeds are often used as an almond oil substitute in cosmetics.
- Famous French painter, Renoir, suggested to his students that they hone their skills by reproducing the textures and colours of peaches.
- Peter Secord (uncle of Laura Secord), thought to be the first Loyalist farmer, took a land grant near Niagara to plant fruit trees. Peaches, pears and plums have been flourishing in the area ever since.
- Peaches are fat free and sodium free and an excellent source of vitamins A and C.
Peach Pork Kabobs (Yakibutaniku)
1 cup (250 mL) mirin
1/2 cup (125 mL) mustard
1 teaspoon (5 mL) dried tarragon
salt and pepper
3 sweet potatoes, cut into 24 one-inch cubes
1 1/2 pounds pork tenderloin, cut into 24 one-inch cubes
4 medium ripe unpeeled peaches, pitted and quartered
4 zucchini, each cut into 8 two-inch pieces
8 yellow onions, each cut into 4 two-inch pieces
8 white mushrooms
olive oil for grilling
Mix mirin, mustard and tarragon in a bowl. Stir well, season to taste with salt and pepper and set aside. Steam or boil sweet potatoes until crisp-tender. Thread three sweet potato cubes, three pork cubes, two peach quarters, four zucchini pieces and four onion pieces alternately onto each of eight 10-inch skewers. Brush kabobs with glaze mixture. Lightly oil grill. Grill over medium-high heat for five minutes on each side, basting
occasionally with glaze.
““ courtesy Oki Restaurant, Oakville
3/4 cup (175 mL) dry white wine
3/4 cup (175 mL) water
3/4 cup (175 mL) sugar
1 tbsp (15 mL) cinnamon
3/4 cup (175 mL) coarsely chopped peel ginger
4 large peaches, cut in half, pitted and skinned
2 tbsp (30 mL) fresh lemon juice
1/2 teaspoon (3 mL) cinnamon
Simmer wine, water, sugar, cinnamon and ginger in saucepan. Stir occasionally until reduced to about 3/4 cup. Prepare eight ramekins for the oven. Divide syrup into ramekins to cover the bottom. Place a peach half in each ramekin, hollow side down, and let cool for about 10 minutes. Roll out puff pastry to about 1/8 of an inch and cut to fit inside of the ramekins. Place puff pastry on top of each ramekin. Brush with egg wash and bake at 375°F for about 30 to 40 minutes. Makes eight servings.
““ courtesy The Lord Nelson, Burlington