Sweetly scented and juicy almost to a fault, peaches readily lend themselves to warm memories – and excellent summer recipes.

Metro Creative Connection photos

Sweetly scented and juicy almost to a fault, peaches readily lend themselves to warm memories – and excellent summer recipes.

Season offers sweet fruit opportunities

By Addie Broyles
Cox Newspapers

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AUSTIN, Texas – We’ve all had a moment with a peach.

A whiff of an especially aromatic stone fruit, one whose taste lives up to the promise of its smell and whose nectar bursts out of the skin and spills all over your chin and hands.

Watermelon has its similar charms. But a really good peach – and the situation in which you have the pleasure of enjoying it – sticks in your mind like the summertime dreams on which it sleeps.

For me, that’s an afternoon of pie baking with my grandmother, who makes a peach pie every time I come home because I told her once that it was my favorite.

In Central Texas, moments with peaches have been limited in recent years. After a record-setting year in 2010, a drought, late freezes and hail damaged the 2011 and 2013 crops, with a decent year in 2012.

Paul Pehl, who runs Behrends Orchard with his wife, Randy Behrends, said that the recent rains will help boost peach size in coming weeks, although the drought will limit the crop to about half of a really good year.

Even so, he’s in good spirits.

“Last year we didn’t have any peaches, so it’s 100 percent better than last year,” Pehl said.

Like many growers, Pehl and Armin Engel, both of whom now are retired, grew peaches as side projects while managing full-time careers. Neither plans on giving up on peaches any time soon, even with the increasingly unpredictable climate that makes them harder to grow.

The industry “grew real big and then shrank, and now it’s pretty much steady the last 10 years,” Engel said. He blames it on the changing weather, not the rising price of land.

Right now, they are selling the early season peaches, and freestone peaches, the varieties whose flesh pulls cleanly off the pit, should be coming off the trees in the next week or so, Engel said.

Both peach farmers shared their tips for storing and preserving peaches:

  • Like tomatoes, peaches are best stored stem side down and in a single layer on a table.

“Put a cloth over them, so the air conditioning doesn’t shrivel them up,” Engel said.

  • Once they hit peak ripeness (you’ll smell it when they do), eat within a few days or store them in the produce crisper on a paper towel in case one turns before the others. They should keep for several weeks, Engel said.
  • Freezing is the best storage method for one month and beyond. You can put them up in a pressure canner or water bath, but they lose a noticeable amount of flavor in the process. Peel the peaches, cut them in half and place in a freezer bag. You can dust them with citric acid, which is available in the spice section of the grocery store, to help them keep their color.
  • You can peel peaches by dropping them in boiling water for a moment and then shocking them in an ice water bath, but that can also draw out some of the sweet juices that make eating a really good peach so memorable.

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CONDIMENT

Cayenne-Spiced Peaches

2 peaches, pitted and sliced or chopped

2 tablespoons olive oil

Squeeze of lemon juice

1/4 teaspoon sea salt

Pinch ground cayenne pepper

In a small bowl, whisk together the olive oil, lemon juice, salt and cayenne pepper. Combine with the peaches and serve.

Serve as a topping on salads, tacos, wraps or sandwiches, with a cheese plate or on its own.

Recipe courtesy Addie Broyles.

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SIDE DISH

Peachy Greek Panzanella

For the salad

2 shallots

Sea salt and freshly ground black pepper, to taste

1/4 cup red wine vinegar

2 ripe peaches

Olive oil, for drizzling

10 slices Greek sesame bread, or ciabatta

2 garlic cloves, peeled

About 1 pound cherry vine tomatoes, halved

Small bunch of fresh basil, leaves torn

For the dressing

2 teaspoons dried oregano or thyme leaves

A pinch of sugar

1/4 cup red wine vinegar

2/3 cup extra-virgin olive oil

Peel and halve the shallots lengthwise and thinly slice. Put in a small bowl, add a pinch of sea salt, and toss with the vinegar. Let marinate while you prepare the rest of the salad.

Preheat a grill pan over high heat while you cut the peaches into halves, then quarters. Drizzle the peaches with a little oil and place on the hot pan until charred on each side. (You want the peaches to have a charred taste but remain firm and juicy.) Place on a plate in a single layer and let cool.

Rub the bread with the garlic (do not discard the garlic), drizzle with olive oil, and place, in batches, on the hot pan until charred on each side. Set aside to cool.

Cut each peach quarter in half and put in a large bowl along with the tomatoes and basil. Tear the bread into pieces roughly the same size as the peaches and add to the bowl, along with the marinated shallots and their juices.

Finely chop the garlic and place in a separate bowl. Add the dressing ingredients and whisk to combine. Pour over the salad and toss to coat. Season with salt and pepper; allow the flavors to marinate for about 10 minutes before serving.

Yields 4 to 6 servings.

Recipe from “Smashing Plates: Greek Flavours Redefined” by Maria Elia.

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MAIN DISH

Chicken And Peaches With Green Beans And Orzo

1 1/3 cups dried orzo

2 1/2 cups green beans, trimmed

2 medium peaches, cut into wedges

1 pound chicken breast tenderloins

2 tablespoons olive oil

1/4 teaspoon salt

1/4 teaspoon ground black pepper

2 to 4 ounces herb-flavor feta cheese (garlic and herb or peppercorn), crumbled

Fresh thyme (optional)

In a large saucepan or Dutch oven cook orzo according to package directions. Add green beans for the last 5 minutes of cooking time. Drain; do not rinse. Remove green beans and set aside.

Meanwhile, lightly brush peaches, then chicken with some of the oil; sprinkle with the 1/4 teaspoon salt and the 1/4 teaspoon pepper.

For a charcoal or gas grill, grill chicken and peaches on the rack of a covered grill directly over medium heat for 4 to 6 minutes or until chicken is no longer pink and peaches are tender.

In a large bowl combine orzo, feta cheese, and the remaining oil; gently toss to mix. Season with additional salt and pepper.

Divide green beans among four serving plates. Top with orzo mixture, chicken, and peaches. If desired, garnish with fresh thyme.

Yields 6 servings.

Recipe from “Better Homes and Gardens The Ultimate Quick & Healthy Book” (Houghton Mifflin Harcourt).

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DESSERT

Peach-Honey Icebox Pie

1/4 cup butter

2 1/2 cups chopped fresh or frozen peaches, thawed

1/4 cup plus 3 tablespoons good-quality local honey, divided

1 tablespoon fresh lemon juice

2 cups vanilla ice cream, softened

1 (9-inch) ready-made graham cracker pie crust

1 cup whipping cream

Fresh mint sprigs and chopped fresh peaches (for garnish)

Melt butter in a large skillet over medium heat. Add peaches and 1/4 cup honey; cook, stirring often, 6 minutes or until peaches have softened and liquid has thickened to a syrup that coats peaches. Spoon peach mixture into a medium bowl; place over a bowl of ice, and stir occasionally until cool (about 1 hour). Stir in lemon juice.

Add vanilla ice cream to peach mixture; stir well. Spoon ice cream mixture into crust, spreading evenly. Cover and freeze 6 hours or until firm.

Let pie stand at room temperature 15 minutes before serving. Meanwhile, beat whipping cream at high speed with an electric mixer until stiff peaks form. Spoon whipped cream over pie, and drizzle with remaining 3 tablespoons honey. Garnish with mint and chopped peaches.

Yields 8 servings.

Recipe from “Southern Living Scooped: Ice Cream Treats, Cheats, and Frozen Eats” (Oxmoor House).