by Moira Tuffy
What is the definition of “summer”? According to Webster:
The season between spring and autumn comprising in the northern hemisphere usually the months of June, July, and August or as reckoned astronomically extending from the June solstice to the September equinox.
That is all fine and good. I am sure we all have personal definitions of the season, but for me there is there only one word that really says summer, “peach”. Yes, peach… perfectly ripe, just picked, and still warm from the sun. You feel the soft fuzz on your lips, your teeth break through the skin, and then the juice runs down your chin. Don’t try to escape it, bite into a perfectly ripe peach and it’s inevitable, juice will run down your chin. And why fight it now that you finally know summer has arrived?
I have always been partial to Long Island or Michigan grown peaches. Sorry Georgia, you may have all fame, but for me Long Island and Michigan have you beat hands down. I can’t give you all the terroir and weather stats as to why; I can only report my personal preference. Whether it is the taste buds or just nostalgia, my vote lies East and Midwest. And if I have to have a showdown between the two, proximity is going to tip the scale to Michigan.
When I move beyond simply enjoying the unadorned fruit, I cannot think of a dish I don’t like if it contains peaches. Just go one step beyond “au natural”. A simple prep of a peach wedge paired with a basil leaf and wrapped with a slice of prosciutto, dressed with a drizzle of balsamic vinegar, and voila, impressive appetizer in minutes. As the star of this dish, use a white-fleshed peach (of Bellini fame) and suddenly it tastes as if the appetizer got a soaking in honey.
Growing up, this appetizer was not part of my mother’s repertoire, but making homemade peach ice cream was. No fancy automatic ice cream maker for my mom. Hers was a good old-fashioned, wood slatted, hand crank model used with lots of rock salt and muscle. She loved the thought of hand cranking peaches, milk, eggs and sugar into the sweet, soft, frozen creaminess of fresh ice cream…well up until about the 10th crank. Then she realized what children were for…and the eldest could delegate cranking duties on down the line. Just when arms were ready to fall off, all patience was lost and you were ready to move on to roasting a marshmallow or something that had a faster return… one last check of the ice cream maker. There it was, frozen to a perfect soft serve consistency: homemade peach ice cream. Tired arms? What tired arms?
Love, love, love ice cream and love that a peach can be the star not only of ice cream but many a dessert. Ah dessert, to live on you alone! But one needs to balance things out and remember a savory course or two. What if, like the peach and prosciutto, we push the sweet to the front of the meal, and while we are at it also bring in the soft and creamy element? I give you peaches and burrata cheese. You may not be able to eat ice cream as an appetizer but there’s burrata. You still get that melt in your mouth, rich, buttery fix from the fresh Italian cheese created from mozzarella and cream. Add the peach, and it is nirvana.
After I have eaten the last peach of the season, in good years here in the Midwest as late as October, I start counting down the months, then weeks, then days until the first peaches once again arrive at the markets in early July. Sure, I could grab a peach at the grocery store out of season and from too many states away, but why? It ends in a mealy, flavorless disappointment. And quite honestly, the anticipation of the perfectly tree-ripened fruit makes it taste that much better.