This juicy sweet fruit is characterized by a soft, fuzzy skin that ranges from white to yellow to reddish brown in color. Inside the fruit, a large pit or stone is surrounded by luscious flesh. Peaches are popular for eating out of hand, canning and making desserts like cobblers, shortcakes and the famous Peach Melba (poached peach halves with vanilla ice cream and raspberry sauce).
Peaches were discovered in Persia by the army of Alexander the Great, who believed they originated there (hence their botanical name Prunus persica). But peaches actually came from China more than 2,500 years ago. Small, hard and sour, they were much different than the luscious, sweet peaches at the market today. Still, the Chinese regarded them as a symbol of longevity and immortality.
There are hundreds of different peaches varieties, but they are generally classified into two categories: clingstones and freestones. Clingstones have pits that stubbornly cling to the flesh of the peach. This firmer-texture variety is widely used for commercial purposes. With freestones, the pit easily falls away from the flesh. This is the variety commonly found at the market.
Most often, though, peaches are not sold by their variety, but by the color of their flesh: yellow, white or red. White peaches are very similar in flavor to common sweet yellow peaches. Donut peaches (a flat variety resembling cake donuts) have very sweet, tender white flesh perfect for salads, desserts and peach crepes. Red peaches are more tart. Blood peaches have dark red colored skins and reddish-purple flesh. Large and juicy, they are often used to make peach chutneys, jams and tart sauces.
Fresh peaches are available from May through October, with a peak period in July and August. They should have an intense fragrance and give slightly to palm pressure. Avoid hard fruits with signs of greening, bruises or soft spots.
Canned peaches in halves or slices are available packed in syrup or water. Dried peach halves and bags of frozen slices are also sold year-round.
Refrigerate ripe peaches in a plastic for up to five days. Unripe peaches may be stored at room temperature. For quicker ripening, place in a pierced paper bag with an apple for a few days.
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