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Peaches

METRO photo

By Barbara Beltrami

They’re here! Grab one and bite into it. Let the juice run down your chin, down your arm and onto your shirt. If it’s a good peach, who cares? If it’s not, you’ve wasted your money and made an unnecessary mess. And in my experience there’s no way of knowing whether it will be succulent and delicious or taste like a raw potato. It’s also been my experience that a peach’s quality has nothing to do with its price. 

I’ve bought peaches that are all rosy and perfect looking in green quart baskets at local farm stands and paid a handsome price for them only to have them go furry on me before they’re even ripened, and I’ve bought peaches on sale  at the supermarket that are not so rosy and are hard as rocks and had them ripen and taste wonderful. It’s really anybody’s guess what the variable is.  

The only thing I can say is that one should never ever buy a peach with any blemish whatsoever because it will not end well. You’ll ultimately  have to salvage parts of that peach that have not started to rot and cook them up to go with a nice dish of vanilla ice cream. Should you have to do that, here are a few recipes to try.

Peach Tart

YIELD: Makes 6 to 8 servings

INGREDIENTS: 

1 1/2 cups flour

1/4 cup sugar

1/2 teaspoon baking powder

7 tablespoons butter, softened

1 large egg

1 egg yolk

1/4 cup + 2 tablespoons apricot jam

4 medium peaches, cut into 1/2” wedges

Confectioners’ sugar for dusting

DIRECTIONS:

Place oven rack in lower third of oven, then preheat oven to 375 F. In a food processor combine the flour, sugar, baking powder, and butter. Pulse a few times to blend, then add the egg and egg yolk and pulse just until a soft dough forms; turn the dough out onto a pastry board and knead until it all comes together. Press the dough onto the bottom and sides of a 10 1/2” fluted tart pan with a removable bottom. 

Spread the quarter cup jam over the bottom crust, then arrange peaches in concentric circles on top. Bake for 20 minutes or until crust is a light golden color and peaches are still a little hard; spread the remaining two tablespoons jam over the peaches and return tart to oven and bake for 25-30 minutes more, until crust is a nice golden color and peaches are tender.

Let cool about 30 minutes, then dust with confectioners’ sugar, remove from pan and serve warm with creme fraiche. 

Peachy Barbecue Sauce

YIELD: Makes about 2 cups

INGREDIENTS: 

2 tablespoons olive oil

1 large shallot, diced

One 3” piece ginger, peeled and diced

3/4 pound peeled, pitted and diced fresh peaches

3/4 cup apple cider vinegar

1/2 cup brown sugar, firmly packed

Salt and pepper to taste

1 teaspoon dried hot pepper flakes

DIRECTIONS:

In a medium saucepan over high heat, warm the oil, then add the shallot and ginger; stirring often, cook until shallot is soft, about 3-5 minutes; add peaches, vinegar, brown sugar, salt and pepper, and hot pepper flakes; stir and bring to a simmer, lower heat and maintain a gentle simmer until the peaches are very soft, about 25-30 minutes. Using an immersion blender, puree the sauce until it reaches desired consistency, then use to baste ribs, chicken or pork and serve with corn on the cob.

Peach Crisp

YIELD: Makes 6 servings

INGREDIENTS: 

3 pounds fresh peaches, peeled, pitted, diced

1/2 cup firmly packed brown sugar

1/2 cup flour

1/2 cup rolled or quick oats

1 teaspoon ground cinnamon

1/2 teaspoon freshly ground nutmeg

Pinch salt

6 tablespoons unsalted butter

DIRECTIONS:

Preheat oven to 375 F. Butter a 9” square baking dish. Arrange peaches evenly in baking dish. In a medium bowl, combine brown sugar, flour, oats, cinnamon, nutmeg, salt and butter. Mix until it achieves a crumbly consistency; sprinkle over peaches; bake until golden brown and crispy on top, about 30 minutes. Serve warm with vanilla ice cream. 

Peach Pie. METRO photo

By Barbara Beltrami

When T. S. Eliot had J. Alfred Prufrock ask, “Do I dare to eat a peach?,” it was most probably with the understanding that eating a ripe peach is a messy business and not for those who are impeccably dressed and cannot afford to have peach juice running down their chins. Biting into a rosy-skinned peach is, for me, the long-awaited reminder that summer is around the corner. And once I’ve gotten over that, slicing a peach into a bowl, dusting it with just a little sugar and dousing it with cream is next on my list. From there, as peaches consistently dominate the fruit bowl on my kitchen table, I get really cavalier and grill them with pork chops or make a peach pie for dessert. And on a hot day, a peach cooler is heavenly.

Grilled Pork Chops and Peaches

YIELD: Makes 4 to 6 servings

INGREDIENTS:

6 garlic cloves, peeled and chopped

2 tablespoons fresh rosemary leaves

1/2 cup olive oil

Coarse salt and freshly ground black pepper to taste

Six 3/4” thick pork chops, trimmed

6 fresh peaches, pitted and halved

4 tablespoons unsalted butter, melted

DIRECTIONS: 

Prepare grill to high heat; place large cast iron skillet on grill, allow to get very hot, then reduce heat to medium. While grill and skillet are heating, in a small bowl combine the garlic, rosemary, 6 tablespoons of the olive oil, salt and pepper to form a paste; smear paste on both sides of pork chops. Brush skillet with remaining olive oil and allow to heat until oil shimmers. Place chops in skillet and cook until nice and brown, about 8 to 10 minutes; add peaches, cut side down, brush them with butter and cook until they are charred, about 5 minutes; remove them and set aside to keep warm. Turn chops and cook in butter from peaches another 5 minutes until brown on both sides but still juicy. Place on platter and serve with the peaches,  rice and a leafy green vegetable.

Peach Pie

YIELD: Makes one pie

INGREDIENTS:

2 1/2 cups flour

1 1/2 sticks unsalted butter, diced

1 teaspoon coarse salt

1/4 cup ice water

5 cups peeled sliced fresh ripe peaches

2 tablespoons freshly squeezed lemon juice

1 cup sugar

1/4 cup flour

DIRECTIONS: 

Place first three ingredients in bowl of electric food processor fitted with steel blade and pulse a few times until mixture resembles coarse meal. Gradually drizzle ice water over mixture and continue to pulse until dough pulls together into a rough ball.  Remove and place on floured board, form into a ball and roll around until coated with flour; divide dough in half to form two balls, coat again with flour, then press into 5 to 6” discs; wrap in plastic wrap and refrigerate at least one hour. 

Meanwhile make the filling: In a large bowl combine peaches, lemon juice, sugar and quarter cup of flour; set aside. When ready to roll out dough, preheat oven to 425 F. Remove dough from fridge, unwrap, coat again with flour, then roll out; place in a 9” pie dish which has been set on a rimmed cookie sheet; add peach mixture, and roll out second disc and place over peaches. Trim and pinch edges of pastry together, make a few slits in top crust and bake for 15 minutes, then lower heat to 375 F and bake 45 minutes to one hour, until crust is golden. Serve with peach or vanilla ice cream.

Peach Cooler

YIELD: Makes 6 to 8 servings

INGREDIENTS:

1 pound peaches, peeled, pitted and cut into chunks

Freshly squeezed juice from 3 limes

2 cups unamended iced tea

1/4 cup sugar or to taste

2 cups sparkling water

One peach, cut into 6 to 8 slices for garnish

6 to 8 sprigs mint for garnish

DIRECTIONS: 

In bowl of food processor fitted with steel blade puree peaches with lime juice and sugar. Place ice cubes in 6 to 8 ounce glasses, pour in 2 to 3 ounces tea and 2 to 3 ounces sparkling water; with long-handled spoon stir in 2 to 3 tablespoons peach puree. Garnish with peach slice and mint. Serve with biscotti.

By Barbara Beltrami

Like the weather this season, peaches have been remarkably good. If you read my column last week, you’ll remember that I talked about peaches and what ideal desserts are wrought from them. And I also promised you another column about them this week. Well, you’re in for a treat because I’m going to tell you about what wonderful ingredients or complements peaches are for savory dishes.

I’ll bet you’re thinking, “No thanks, I think I’ll just stick with the those peachy desserts.” That’s what I said the first time I was introduced to peaches in a savory dish. But then I became a convert, and you will too after you’ve tasted refreshing peach, arugula, Gorgonzola and pecan salad; peach salsa; and ginger-peachy pork chops.

And by the way, none of this means you can’t have peach dumplings, peach crisp, peach shortcake, peach pie, peach cobbler, peach ice cream or just sliced fresh peaches in wine for dessert. Hey, when they’re this good, you have to go for their gold.

Peach, Arugula, Pecan and Gorgonzola Salad

YIELD: Makes 4 servings.

INGREDIENTS: 1 small head radicchio, washed and shredded or chopped

1 bunch arugula, washed

1 large peach, sliced

¼ cup chopped pecans

¹/3 cup extra virgin olive oil

2 tablespoons wine vinegar

1 tablespoon balsamic vinegar

2 ounces Gorgonzola cheese

Salt and ground black pepper, to taste

DIRECTIONS: In a large bowl, toss together the radicchio, arugula, peach and pecans. In a small bowl, vigorously whisk together the oil, vinegars, cheese, salt and pepper. Just before serving drizzle liquid mixture over radicchio mixture, toss to thoroughly coat, and serve immediately at room temperature with grilled chicken, beef, pork or shrimp.

Peach Salsa

YIELD: Makes 3 to 4 servings.

INGREDIENTS:

1 large peach, pared and chopped

1 medium tomato, chopped

½ cup seeded chopped jalapenos

3 tablespoons chopped fresh cilantro

1 teaspoon fresh lime zest

2 tablespoons freshly squeezed lime juice

Salt and ground pepper, to taste

1 tablespoon extra virgin olive oil

DIRECTIONS: Toss all ingredients together; serve at room temperature. Best if served immediately but can be prepared a couple of hours in advance. Serve with taco chips, crackers, grilled beef or chicken.

Ginger-Peachy Pork Chops

YIELD: Makes 4 servings.

INGREDIENTS:

1 tablespoon vegetable, canola or peanut oil

4 medium pork chops

Salt and ground black pepper, to taste

2 tablespoons brown sugar

2 tablespoons soy sauce

2 tablespoons apple cider vinegar

¼ cup orange juice

1 tablespoon freshly squeezed lemon juice

½ cup broth

1 teaspoon grated ginger

2 cloves garlic, minced

4 large firm peaches, sliced

1 tablespoon candied ginger, finely chopped

2 tablespoons chopped peanuts (optional)

DIRECTIONS: In a medium skillet heat the oil. Season the pork chops with salt and pepper. With the heat on medium high, brown the meat, about 2 minutes per side. While the chops are browning, in a medium bowl combine the brown sugar, soy sauce, vinegar, orange and lemon juices and set aside.

Remove the pork chops from the pan and set aside. Add the broth, grated ginger, garlic, liquid mixture and peaches to the skillet. Cook, stirring frequently, over high heat until the sauce is thickened, about 5 to 7 minutes. Add the pork chops, cover, reduce heat to low and cook until meat is cooked through and peaches are soft, about 10 minutes. Place chops on a platter, spoon sauce over them and sprinkle with candied ginger and peanuts. Serve with rice and stir-fried bok choy, broccoli and snap peas.

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Peaches grow so easily on Long Island, this volunteer has thrived for years. Photo by Ellen Barcel

By Ellen Barcel

One of the nice things about gardening on Long Island is our very acidic soil. Did I say that was one of the nice things? Yes, actually, if you are fond of certain fruits.

Soil pH measures how acidic or alkaline your soil is. The scale ranges from 0 to 14 with 7 being neutral. Below 7 is considered acidic with 4.5 to 5 being very strongly acidic. Much of mine tests out in this range. Above 7 is alkaline. How acidic or alkaline soil is determines how certain needed nutrients are taken up by different plants.

If your soil is very acidic, in the 4.5 to 5.5 range, then blueberries top the list. Blueberries are tasty and considered a nutrition powerhouse filled with phytonutrients and high in fiber. Blueberry bushes come in a number of varieties including high bush (tall) and low bush (shorter). The white spring flowers give way to the berries in summer. To prolong the picking season, select several varieties that range in maturity date from early to medium to late. Yes, consider netting as the berries begin to ripen since birds do love them, too.

Apple trees do well in Long Island’s soil, even down to a pH of 5.0. Photo by Ellen Barcel
Apple trees do well in Long Island’s soil, even down to a pH of 5.0. Photo by Ellen Barcel

In addition to the wonderful fruit they yield, the plants make a great living hedge. Since blueberry bushes are deciduous, the living hedge does not provide much screening in winter.

Bilberry and cranberry also do well in this very acidic range, 4.5 to 5. Cranberries were once raised commercially on Long Island. Cranberry Bog Preserve in Riverhead is located where this commercial operation was in business from the late 1890s to the 1930s. Local women were employed to harvest the berries. If you decide to try to raise cranberries, remember that lots of water is needed.

Other fruits that do well in acidic soil include rhubarb (5.5 to 6), raspberries (5.5 to 6.2), wineberries, which are an invasive variety of raspberries from Asia, and strawberries (5.5 to 6.5).

A plant that may need some lime is the grape vine. While it does well in a variety of soil conditions, the ideal soil pH is 5.5 to 6.8, lower for American vines, higher for some of the imports. If you soil is below the 5.5, then add lime. Different varieties of grapes do better in different soil pH levels, so read the tag that comes with your plants or do a bit a research on the specific variety you have selected.  Like most of the fruits mentioned above, grapes prefer a well-drained soil.

When it comes to fruit trees, the apple does very well in acidic soil, growing well even down to 5.0, which is considered strongly acidic.  Dwarf and semidwarf varieties mean that the home gardener can grow one or more even on a small piece of property and can easily harvest the fruit come fall.

Peaches do well in pH 6.5 (slightly acidic). If your soil is very acidic, you may need to add some lime. Two trees that “volunteered” in my yard are filled with beautiful pink flowers, which is why I keep the trees since the peaches themselves aren’t really great.

Another tree that yields fruit and does well on Long Island is the mulberry, pH range 5.5 to 6.5, moderately acidic. There are some negatives to the mulberry tree, however. It’s a “messy” tree in that the fruit and juice can easily stain anything with which they come in contact. And large limbs can easily break off from the tree. So, while it easily grows here, think about the negatives versus the positives before planting it.

All in all, many different varieties of fruit do well here in Long Island’s acidic soil. Remember to add fertilizer to you soil. Yes, compost is ideal, but if you prefer chemical fertilizers, read the package carefully to make sure it is formulated to help the fruits you are growing. Always follow manufacturer’s directions.

Also remember, that if you do need to add lime, depending on the variety it can take over a year or more for the lime to break down in the soil and be available for your plants to use. Again, read the package carefully.

So plant your favorite fruit tree or bush, sit back and enjoy the fruits of your labor.

Ellen Barcel is a freelance writer and master gardener. To reach Cornell Cooperative Extension and its Master Gardener program, call 631-727-7850.