We are knee deep in peach season, and now is the time to gather the most diverse array of peaches you can find and unite them in jam. Katherine reports on some new discoveries about the genetics behind peach diversity and argues for minting up your peach jam.
Fresh peaches at their peak are fuzzy little miracles, glorious just as they are. But their buttery mouthfeel and dripping juice are lost when peaches are processed into jam and spread across rough toast. To compensate for textural changes, cooked peaches need a bit more adornment to heighten their flavor, even if it’s only a sprinkling of sugar. Normally I am not tempted to meddle with perfection by adding ginger or lavender or other flavors to peach jam. This year, however, as I plotted my jam strategy, the unusual juxtaposition of peach and mint found its way into my imagination over and over again, like the insistent echo of radio news playing in the background. Peach and mint, peach and mint, peach and mint – almost becoming a single word. To quiet the voice in my head I had to make some peach-mint jam. The odd combination turned out to be wonderful, and I’m now ready to submit the recipe to a candid world. As we will see below, it’s not without precedent. Mmmmmmpeachmint jam.Continue reading →
Walnuts may not seem like summer fruits, but they are – as long as you have the right recipe.Katherine takes you to the heart of French walnut country for green walnut season.
Public domain, via wikimedia commons
English walnuts do not come from England. The English walnut came to American shores from England, but the English got them from the French. The (now) French adopted walnut cultivation from the Romans two millennia ago, back when they were still citizens of Gallia Aquitania. Some people call this common walnut species “Persian walnut,” a slightly better name, as it does seem to have evolved originally somewhere east of the Mediterranean. But the most accurate name for the common walnut is Juglans regia, which means something like “Jove’s kingly nuts.” I think of them as queenly nuts, in honor of Eleanor of Aquitaine, because if any queen had nuts, she certainly did. During her lifetime the Aquitaine region of France became a major exporter of walnuts and walnut oil to northern Europe, and it remains so more than 800 years later. Continue reading →
The scent of ripening peaches spurs Katherine’s musings on the botany of stone fruits
Fragrant peaches ripening on window sills and countertops pull me right back into the heart of my childhood summers. They always arrived in a huge box from Georgia, sent by my grandmother in the hope of drawing my parents back to their native state. Her other lures included Vidalia onions in April and Claxton fruitcakes in November, but peaches were definitely her best shot. The peaches were gorgeous, and their ripe flavor was incredibly complex and vivid, but their peak was ephemeral. After my sister and I had spread them all out on newspapers, the whole sprawling array had to be checked at least two times a day and sorted by ripeness. Peaches were never allowed to touch each other. On some hot days, peach tending took on the urgency of triage, with fruits passing from ripe to “sharp” to downright alcoholic in one long afternoon.
Peaches, nectarines, plums, apricots, and cherries are sometimes called stone fruits because of their pits, or stones. Along with almonds, they are all in the genus Prunus which belongs to the Rose family – Rosaceae. Several other familiar fruits come from the rose family but are not stone fruits. Continue reading →
Some people just cannot bring themselves to refrigerate peaches. Storing peaches lovingly at room temperature is said to coax out the best in peach scent, flavor, and texture. But treating peaches this way does take a lot of time and vigilance, as I detail elsewhere. Reliable authorities – peach packing houses and state extension agencies – recommend refrigerating peaches once they become ripe, but some people would rather risk losing fruit to rot than let them get cold. But does it matter? Can peaches be stored in the fridge to slow their decline without compromising their peak? Continue reading →