Just Peachy

We wait throughout the spring for peaches and when they finally arrive we race to the market each weekend to get them. After the first several weeks, the trees are full and the lines are shorter. By that time, we have tired of cobblers, pies, tarts, crumble and crisp.

Break the mundane peach ritual with a grilled peach salad.

Assuming that there are no unseasonal, extended cold spells in late spring, we will have an abundance of peaches in July and August. The best way to tell if a peach is ripe is by its feel and smell. Give the peach a slight squeeze; it should have some give, softer than an apple, but firmer than a banana. The next step is to smell them. A peach should have a floral smell. If the peaches are extremely ripe, you only have about a week to use them before they turn into a mushy mess. During that time, they make phenomenal cobblers and pies, or can be grilled for a unique taste.

There are more than 1,000 different varieties and hybrids of peaches in the world, and more than 100 different varieties in the United States. Those varieties fit into two categories: cling and freestone (although some hybrids are somewhere in-between). The two categories are just as they sound. The flesh of cling peaches sticks to the pit. Cling peaches typically ripen earlier, have a softer and juicier flesh, and work well in desserts, as well as jams and jellies. The flesh of the freestone peaches is easily removed from the pit when ripe. Freestone peaches have a firmer flesh that tends to hold up better than cling peaches during baking preparations.

If you have an abundance of peaches, there are numerous ways to preserve them for future use. First step is to remove the skin. After the skin is removed, you are ready for canning, pickling (which may sound a little odd but works great for salads and savory dishes) or freezing. Before canning peaches, take a look at University of Missouri Extension’s website at www.extension.missouri.edu/p/GH1452; the requirements are very specific.

Freezing is the easiest way to preserve peaches at home. The two categories of freezing are bulk and IQF (individually quick-frozen). Bulk freezing is just as it sounds. Skin all of the peaches and removed the pits, then cut into halves or slices. Place the peaches into a plastic bag or container, squeeze out the air, label and freeze. The only drawback to bulk freezing is that all of the peaches need to be thawed at one time to use them.

IQF allows you to remove only the frozen peaches that you want to use, which works great when you need a small amount of peaches for a smoothie or your cereal. To IQF the peaches, first take halves or slices and space them on a tray (not touching). Then place them in a level area of the freezer for 5 to 24 hours. Remove the tray and use a spatula to gently remove the peaches from the tray, place them into a labeled container and freeze again quickly. The downfall of IQF is that each peach is exposed to the harsh freezer and, if kept frozen for an extended amount of time, may develop freezer burn.

The skin on a fresh peach is palatable, but when peaches are preserved and used later, the skins are much less desirable. You only need boiling water and ice water to remove the skins. Wash the peaches and make a small x in the skin on the opposite side from the stem. In small batches (three to four peaches per gallon of boiling water), immerse the peaches into the boiling water. After 30 to 45 seconds, remove a peach from the water with a slotted spoon or strainer; check to see if the skin peels back with minimal effort. If the skin is still adhering, leave in the water for 15 to 30 more seconds. Once the skin comes off readily, remove the peaches and immerse into ice water. Leave the peach in the ice water for three or four times the time the peaches were in the boiling water to make sure they cool to the core. The skins should now be easy to remove and the peach is ready for further processing.

Grilled Peaches And Goat Cheese
Serves 4 to 6

4–6 ripe peaches, cut in half and pit removed
Salt and pepper as needed
5 ounces goat cheese, crumbled
Butter or oil as needed
2–4 ounces baby salad mix (or greens of choice)

Lightly season the cut side of the peaches with salt and pepper. Grill over direct heat with a medium fire, cut side down, until the cut side starts to turn golden brown with some dark spots. Remove peaches from grill and allow peaches to cool slightly. Cut each peach half in two, place in a bowl and toss with crumbled goat cheese and salad mix, then season lightly with salt and pepper. Drizzle top of salad with balsamic reduction. For a buffet, arrange the seasoned greens, crumbled goat cheese and peaches on a platter and drizzle the top with balsamic reduction, you may also want to have small ramekins of reduction available for people to drizzle their own plate as well.

Balsamic Reduction
1 cup balsamic vinegar
2 tablespoons sugar or honey

Cook over low heat until mixture is ¼ of original volume.

Balsamic Reduction: Add balsamic and honey together and reduce over a medium heat. Use a wooden spoon or chopstick to measure the original depth and reduce until mixture is one-fourth the original volume.
To Griddle: Coat bottom of pan lightly with butter or oil. Place seasoned peaches, cut side down, into a sauté pan over medium-high heat. Cook until the bottom side has developed an even brown crust; the peach should release on its own with slight help from a metal spatula.
To Grill: Place seasoned peaches, cut side down, on direct heat from the grill. Cook until the grill lines start to creep up the edge of the peach slightly. The peaches should release from the grill on their own with a little help from a spatula.