Fresh Look at Peaches
Aug 01, 2018 12:00AM
● By Brian Saucedo
There’s a reason peaches are referenced in so many terms of endearment, in honeyed words of sweet sentiment—even, dare I say, amidst flights of juicy rapture. So round, so soft, so beautifully colored and sensuously textured, the peach is so delectable a summer treat that in 2015, it earned its own emoji. That emoji is evocative. Provocative. Imaginative. It is, actually, an apropos ambassador for peach as sweet fruit, as opposed to peach as a socio-cultural icon.
Imagine if you will, a perfectly ripe, juicy peach: its flesh warmed by the sun and protected by the skin’s gentlest of firmness. A good peach is vulnerable in its fragility but powerful in that its best attributes—flavor, scent, its very feeling in the hand—give it character and elegance. It makes sense that a good, farm-fresh peach rests among the very best of summer food memories.
Think about it. While a just-picked peach is a sort of luscious, juice-dripping down-your-hand-and-arm kind of summer dream best lingered upon because you know the moment and the season are fleeting, a hot-from-the oven peach cobbler with homemade whipped cream is like pure August sunshine with mellifluously floating clouds all around. A peach pie is like God’s gift to anyone lucky enough to live in that wide latitudinal swath from Penticton, Canada in the north and west to Atlanta in the south and east. And of course, while I can’t advocate for eating peaches before July or after September, canned peaches in winter are a lesson in romance amplified by nectar as nourishing to the soul as any soup.
While Maryland lies inside that great band of American farmland ideally suited to growing peaches—the trees need hot summers, mild winters, and safety from spring frost—it isn’t the most prolific crop grown in the state, a statistic owned by apples. Nevertheless, Maryland is home to almost 1,000 acres of peach orchards owned by 105 commercial farmers who last year harvested nearly seven million pounds of the fruit.
Swann Farms, Northern Calvert County
Swann Farms is a 300-acre operation in northern Calvert County. While much of the farm’s land is devoted to sweet corn, 20 acres are used for growing a variety of peaches. Joe-Sam Swann and his family took over the farm when his father, Allen “Sambo” Swann, a fifth-generation farmer, died in 2016. A fulltime farmer, Sambo, alongside his Uncle Bid and nephew Jody, made a success out of a farm that was—way back in colonial times when valuable land in Maryland was largely used to grow tobacco—given to a Tasker daughter, the youngest of seven children, surely a nod to her place in the family line up and her role as a female. Situated along the Patuxent River, the farm has light and sandy soil that drains quickly. Not great for tobacco, and in those times considered poor land for farming. With a little love and some modern irrigation, Swann’s agricultural inheritance is great for peaches.
Joe-Sam says Sambo worked tirelessly on the farm, almost to a fault. But its Sambo’s, Bid’s and Jody’s endless toil, along with Joe-Sam’s contemporary farming methods and his wife’s marketing skills, that make those 20 acres famous for peaches that are sold wholesale to customers like the Anne Arundel County Public School system, Whole Foods Market and Harris Teeter, as well as to caterers committed to supporting local farmers, such as owner Anna Chaney and Executive Chef Mike Archibald at Herrington on the Bay.
Peaches take an extraordinary amount of work to bring to market. It takes two months alone of pruning in the bitter cold of February just to get the trees ready for bloom. Springtime means frost danger: the peach tree’s gorgeous pink blooms, heralds of deliciousness to come, can be wiped out overnight with one windstorm, one snowfall, one late frost. Last year, Swann Farm’s eight orchards, all with trees between seven and 20 years old, lost three entire plant varieties to a freeze; luckily, they managed to harvest more than 3000 bushels of other types. Then there is, of course, the picking and packing. Consumers want peaches at the peak of ripeness. Unlike many other fruits, peaches can be picked just short of peak ripeness. They won’t grow any larger or denser, but they will ripen off the tree. Even at this stage of almost-but-not-quite though, their skin is delicate, their flesh susceptible to bruising. It’s the policy of Swann Farms to send fruit to market within 24 hours of picking. “But still, it’s like threading the needle,” Joe-Sam says. “To get as close to ripe without going too soft.”
This year, Swann Farms is opening their peach orchard to the public as a U-Pick operation. The farm is already an established and popular site for U-Pick strawberries. Three to 400 hundred people a day fill the six acres of farmland given over to that crop. “We’ve had such tremendous success with strawberries, so we are excited about opening up the peach orchards,” Joe-Sam says. "We really enjoy having people down to the farm. It helps our customers understand how we produce foods they love and it provides transparency into our growing practices.” You can check the Swann Farm Facebook page for updated information on picking times.
Zang Family Farm
Tim Zang graduated from West Virginia University and owned a Loan Doctor franchise for many years before he returned to the family farm in southern Anne Arundel County. Originally a tobacco plantation, Tim’s father William “Billy” Zang purchased 100 acres of farmland in 1954 and started selling commercial produce out of a farm stand just north of Galesville in 1984. A founding member of the Anne Arundel County Farmer’s Market, Zang specialized for decades in tomatoes and sweet corn, as well as peaches.
Tim says Billy chose to plant several varieties of peaches over two acres because the farm had the necessary agricultural equipment and perfect peach-growing soil. Plus, peaches boast a high dollar return at market and the harvest can happen on a quick turnaround. A good peach tree can generate a marketable harvest in about three years.
By the time Tim rejoined the family business, Zang Farm was producing 250 to 300 25-pound crates of peaches each season. Zang’s sells several types of peaches, each chosen for their harvest times, taste and market popularity. They have beautiful names: Garnet Beauty. Red Haven. Century. Star Fire. And Ernie’s Choice. Not nearly as melodious, nor sexy, but an older variety admired for a classic yellow color, firm flesh and disease resistance. As in life, there
is a perfect peach for everyone.
Zang says his favorite thing about a peach is the tree in bloom. “The orchard is pink, the pruned trees aligned in rows stark against the sky,” he explains. “It’s breathtaking. Something to be seen.” He loves the scent of a fresh picked peach; the smell wafting up as he places packed crates in the cooler. That peachy smell indicates the fruit is ripe and ready to be enjoyed. You can find Zang’s peaches at the Anne Arundel County Farmers Market on Riva Road, and alongside his corn, and tomatoes at the family farm stand in Galesville.
Pick Your Own PeachesU Pick operations confirmed at press time. It’s very important to check these farms’ Facebook pages before planning your trip to confirm picking dates, times and prices.
Baugher Farm 1015 Baugher Road, Westminster, MD 21158 Hotline for daily picking updates: 410-857-0111. Alternate Phone: 410-848-5541. www.baughers.com Weekends, 9am-5pm. Directions: about three miles west of Westminster, Maryland on Route 140.
Larriland Farm 2415 Woodbine Road (Route 94), Lisbon, MD 21797 Phone: Hotline for picking updates: 301-854-6110 or 410-442-2605. www.pickyourown.com
Homestead Farm 15604 Sugarland Road, Poolesville, MD 20837 Phone: 301-977-3761. www.homestead-farm.net
Rock Hill Orchard 28600 Ridge Road, Mount Airy, MD 21771 Phone: 301-831-7427 Email: email@example.com. www.rockhillorchard.com
First Fruits Berry Farm and Orchard 8416 Harmony Road, Denton, MD 21629, Denton, MD
21629 Phone: 410-310-3906 Daily updates are posted on Facebook: www.facebook.com/firstfruitsorchard
Lockbriar Farms 10051 Worton Road, Chestertown, MD 21620 Phone: 410-778-9112 www.lockbriarfarms.com
Godfrey’s Farm 302 Leager Road, Sudlersville, MD 21668 Phone:
Kent Fort Farm 135 Eastern Lane, Stevensville, MD 21666 Phone: 410-643-1650 www.facebook.com/kentfortfarm
White Marsh Acres 515 White Marsh Rd, Centreville, MD 21617 Phone: 410- 739-8649. Alternate Phone: 410-490-6137
Choosing the Perfect PeachTo pick a perfect peach, it’s important to know what to look for.
Regardless of color (peaches are generally yellow, blushed pink or tones of red), the fruit’s skin should have an even color all over. There shouldn’t be any green or white near the stem. The flesh should be firm but give to slight pressure. And of course, you should be able to breathe in that delicious, memorable peachy scent. When you take your peaches home, if you are going to use them right away, put them in the fridge. A not-quite-ripe peach might last on the counter for two to three days but should be refrigerated to enjoy at its best. If you pick a peach that isn’t quite ripe, put it on the counter at room temperature for a couple of days, put it in a paper bag with the top rolled down, or if you must, use it for jams, jellies, canning and baking.
Here are some peach recipes to help you make the most of this month’s crop.
Peaches, Fresh & Warm
As perfect for dessert as for the main course, or for breakfast as for any meal, this recipe is easy, basic and equal parts rustic and elegant.
3–4 whole fresh peaches, pitted, pith removed, and cut into ½ inch or so slices, or 1 bag frozen sliced peaches
1 vanilla bean pod or 2 teaspoons vanilla extract
1 cinnamon stick, or 1/2 teaspoon cinnamon
2–3 whole cloves
1/4 cup honey
Cover the peaches with water to cover in a medium saucepan. Add the spices and honey. Simmer until the peaches are soft and tender, remove with a slotted spoon. Reduce the leftover liquid slightly, to maximize the sweetness of the honey/juice/water mixture and to bring the flavors of vanilla and spices forward. Remove whole spices and use the reduction as a sauce for pie, ice cream, or grilled meats.
I’ve made this salsa with nectarines and plums as well as with peaches and a variety of stone fruits, depending on what is in season, at the farmer’s market or available for U Pick. Its great with grilled pork chops, prawns, or rockfish.
2 peaches, pitted and medium diced
1 firm and ripe red or yellow tomato, seeded and medium diced
1 firm and ripe tomatillo (optional), seeded and diced
1 firm and ripe avocado, diced
1/4 cup red onion, small dice
3 tablespoons fresh cilantro, minced
Juice of one ripe lime, about 2 tablespoons or to taste
1 TB honey
1/4 teaspoon crushed red pepper flakes, or to taste
Salt and ground black pepper to taste
Place the fruit, tomato, tomatillo, onion, cilantro, lime juice, and red pepper flakes in a bowl; toss to blend. Gently fold in diced avocado. Season to taste with salt and pepper. Cover. Refrigerate at least 30 minutes.
Peach Simple Syrup
A recipe I’ve used for various preparations throughout August and even into September with a variety of stone fruits, this peach simple syrup recipe (courtesy of Chef Mike Archibald, Herrington on the Bay) can be used to make fresh Peach Soda. We love this recipe because it’s so fun and family friendly (Grilled Peach Ice Cream Floats anyone?) but can be made into an adult treat with just a dash of this or that.
2 cups sugar
2 cups water
4 each, fresh peaches, pitted and roughly chopped
In a saucepan, heat the sugar in the water until it dissolves. Add the peaches and cook until the peaches are tender. Using a blender or immersion blender, puree the mixture. Pour through a mesh strainer to remove any pulp.
8 ounces crushed ice
3 ounces Peach Simple Syrup
5 ounces club soda
fresh peach slices for garnish
Put the ice in a 16-ounce chilled glass. Pour the cooled simple syrup and soda over the ice. Stir. Garnish with the fresh peach slices and a fresh herb like lemon verbena, lemon thyme, pineapple
sage or mint. A hit of gin, vodka, or bourbon would work nicely here.
Peach Upside Down Cake
Based loosely on my grandma’s pineapple upside down cake, this dessert has a cake with a light
crumb, vanilla flavor, slight, not cloying sweetness, and those sugary, hot, delicious baked peaches!
1/4 cup butter
1/2 cup light brown sugar, firmly packed
1/4 cup raw turbinado sugar, real maple syrup or floral honey
1/2 teaspoon pumpkin pie spice
1 teaspoon vanilla extract or the scraped seeds from 1 vanilla bean pod
3 peaches, peeled, pitted, pithed, sliced
Local walnuts or southern pecans, cut into halves
For the Cake
1/4 cup butter
1 large egg
3/4 cup sugar
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
1/2 teaspoon almond extract
1/2 teaspoon salt
1 1/3 cup flour
1 1/2 teaspoons baking powder
1/2 cup milk
1/4 cup plain whole milk yogurt,
sour cream or buttermilk
Preheat the oven to 375F. Lightly grease a 9-inch round cake pan.
To make the topping: Melt the butter in a sauce pan or the microwave. Mix in the brown sugar, turbinado, syrup or honey, vanilla, and honey. Spoon the mixture into the prepared 9-inch cake pan. Space the peach slices on top of the sugar mixture. If you need to go retro, you can place a fresh or maraschino cherry decoratively around the peach slices, in a pattern. If you’re using nuts, scatter them in any spaces.
To make the cake:
Beat the butter and sugar until smooth. Beat in the egg, then the salt, baking powder, almond and vanilla. Add the milk and yogurt, sour cream or buttermilk. Loosely blend. Add the flour, about 1/3 cup at a time, blending gently to not overwork the flour and scraping down the bowl as needed. Spoon the thick batter over the peaches, making sure to get it to the edge of the pan. It may not fully cover the fruit, but that is fine, they will bake together. Bake 30 to 35 minutes, until a toothpick or cake tester inserted into the center comes out clean.
Remove the cake from the oven, wait five minutes, then turn the pan over onto a serving plate. Wait 30 seconds to a minute more, then lift the pan off. If anything sticks in the pan, just lift it out and place it back on the cake. Serve warm or at room temperature. My family loves it with fresh whipped cream. This cake overnights well and is perfect for a picnic…or breakfast...brunch…a gift, etc.
Bourbon Peach Cobbler
One of my readers, Barbara Pease, turned me on to this delicious cobbler originated by Tyler Florence of The Food Network, which I have tweaked a little and play with depending on what’s at the market, in the fridge or on my mind.
For the Fruit
8 cups fresh peaches, nectarines, or plums, pitted and sliced into 1/2- to 1-inch slices
1/4 cup bourbon (optional)
1/2 cup sugar
1 teaspoon cornstarch
1 teaspoon pumpkin pie spice
1 tablespoon fresh lemon juice
Seeds from 1/2 pod of vanilla bean or 1/2 teaspoon vanilla extract
For the Cake
1 1/2 cup all-purpose flour (I use King Arthur White Wheat Flour)
Scant 1/4 cup sugar
3/4 teaspoons baking powder
1/4 teaspoon baking soda
1/2 teaspoon salt
2 sticks cold butter (I freeze my butter, cubed)
1/2 cup plain whole milk yogurt or 3/4 cup cream
1/2 cup heavy cream for brushing the cobbler
1–2 tablespoon white or turbinado sugar for sprinkling
Heat your oven to 375F. In a large bowl, add the peaches, bourbon, ¼ cup sugar, cornstarch, spices, vanilla and lemon. Toss to mix well, coating the peaches evenly. Set aside. Can be made in advance and refrigerated, but only for a short time before the fruit releases its juice and starts to turn color. Releasing the juices isn’t necessarily a bad thing—make sure to keep them in the final cobbler preparation.
Prepare the cobbler: Sift together the flour, 1/2 cup sugar, baking powder, baking soda and salt. Add 1 1/2 sticks cubed butter to the flour mixture and cut it in with a pastry blender, a few (10–15) pulses in the food processor or with your hands until the mixture looks like coarse breadcrumbs or peas. Add the yogurt or cream and mix just until the dough comes together. Don’t overwork; the dough should be slightly sticky but manageable.
In a 10-inch cast iron skillet over medium-low heat, melt the remaining butter. Add the fruit mixture and cook gently until heated through, about five minutes. Drop the dough by mounded spoonfuls over the fruit. Brush the top of the cobbler drops (also called dumplings) with heavy cream and sprinkle with white or turbinado sugar. Place the cast iron pan on a baking sheet to catch any drips that might overflow. Bake for 40 to 45 minutes until the top is browned and the fruit is bubbling.