Do I Dare to Eat a Peach?
Drive down a road in Gillespie County during the summer and open the windows. You’ll smell of millions of peaches begging to be eaten, baked into pies or transformed into preserves — an aroma that will take you back to picnics and summer parties long past. This is the center of the Central Texas peach production zone, growing more than 40% of the Texas crop. With different varieties ripening at different times from May through the end of July, there are plenty of opportunities for you to pick up a few pounds for yourself, and lots of ways for you to enjoy them. We’ve gathered some peach lore to tempt you, and cultivated a list of the best places to pick a peck, so grab a basket and find yourself the perfect tree; it's one of the most delicious ways to spend a beautiful Hill Country afternoon.
The Peaches are Coming! The Peaches are Coming!
Texas is known for many things — cattle ranching, oil drilling and boot scootin’, to name a few. But in the spring and summer, Texas becomes a major producer of the much-loved peach, producing more than a million bushels each year.
A peach, by any other name, will taste as sweet
Peaches are loved for their sweet, tangy flavor, but they’re also nutritional powerhouses. Each large peach provides ten percent of your fiber and vitamin A needs, and twenty percent of your vitamin C. But who eats just one? With an average of just 66 calories each, you can afford to indulge your sugar cravings with this natural dessert. It’s said that eating peaches will also improve your skin tone. (Is that where we get the phrase, “peaches and cream complexion”?)
A peach for all seasons
There are three main types of peaches, any dozens of varieties. Cling peaches ripen first, usually in May, and are so named because the seed “clings” to the fruit. These are soft, juicy and sweet, and are perfect for baking and preserves. Freestone peaches ripen at the end of the season, in late June and July. These are the best peaches for eating out of hand, with a firmer flesh and less juicy texture. Semi-freestone peaches have seeds that will only pull away from the fruit when ripe, usually in June. They’re a new variety, blending the ease of freestone eating with the juicy softness of a cling peach.
If you Pick your own…
Anyone can go to the grocery store and paw through the bins. But there's nothing quite like eating peaches you pick yourself. There are dozens of orchards in our area that will let you come out and pick a bushel or a peck, and many of them also offer the chance to gather strawberries, blackberries and other fruits and vegetables. Lydell’s Store at Pedernales Valley Farms offers peaches and tomatoes as well as peppers, berries, beans, squash and other veggies. Don’t miss their homemade salsas, jams and jellies, and while you're there, try the fresh peach cobbler and handmade ice cream. Marburger Orchard has been providing pick-your-own peaches, blackberries and strawberries for 30 years. Burg’s Corner offers far more than produce — their store carries peach salsas, pickles, dressings, and much more, including peach-scented candles. Studebaker Farm doesn’t stop the harvest when the peaches are gone: visit them for plums, zucchini, tomatoes, watermelon and pumpkins all the way up until the first frost.
You Get What You Pick!
To get the best harvest, you need to know how to select the best fruit. First, look for peaches that are free of bruises or other blemishes. Ripe peaches have a wonderful, sweet aroma, and there are no traces of green left on the peel. A well-defined cleft in the fruit also indicates ripeness. Peaches will become softer, but not more sweet, after they have been plucked from the tree, so don’t make the mistake of assuming they will improve once you pick them. To ripen fruit that’s a little hard, place it in a paper bag on a counter. An apple or banana placed in the bag will hasten the process.
What to cook first?
A creative cook may never run out of ways to use fresh peaches. Pies, cobblers and other desserts top the list, but you can also make a wonderful glaze for pork and chicken, soak peaches in alcohol to make your own liqueur, preserve peaches in syrup or churn up a big batch of everyone’s favorite summer treat — fresh peach ice cream. Peach adds a unique sweetness to salsas, and pairs beautifully with the exceptionally hot habanero pepper. You'll find adventurous chefs using this combination to flavor bar-be-cue sauce, chutney and jelly — a sweet, spicy blend perfect for smoked pork and beef.
A few simple techniques will make cooking with peaches much easier. Most recipes call for removing the skin of the peaches, since it can become tough when cooked and the downy fuzz can alter the texture of a dish. The easiest way to remove the skin is to blanch peaches in boiling water for 30 seconds to a minute (the riper the fruit, the less time it will require) then plunge them in cold water for another minute. Dry the fruit, then use a knife to cut a cross in the bottom and pull each section of the peel off. It should come away easily. Peaches, like apples and some other fruits, will turn brown when exposed to air. You can use pineapple, lemon or lime juice to stop this process, or even crush a vitamin C tablet and dissolve it in water to achieve the same effect.
Sidebar of Related Information
A Fruitful History
Peaches have been around for a long time, and have been highly prized by many cultures. It’s no surprise — anything so sweet and delicious can only inspire admiration.
- Writings from China in the 10th century B.C. mention peaches, and these fruits have been favored by rulers throughout history.
- It was believed that the peach conferred immortality, so it was eaten by the gods of ancient China at a magnificent banquet held once every six thousand years.
- The Chinese still consider the peach a symbol of longevity, and they are presented at birthday celebrations.
- After Alexander the Great conquered the Persians, he brought the peach to Europe. From there, Spanish explorers brought the fruit to the New World.
- Indian tribes are credited with propagating peach trees as they migrated across North America.
- Captain John Smith reported seed-grown peach trees in the Jamestown colony in 1629.
- Thomas Jefferson loved to each peaches, and fermented them into peach wine and peach brandy.