The peach is the state fruit of Georgia, but those Georgia peaches have nothing on the fresh peaches available at the Tuesday Culver City Farmers Market. California produces 65% of the fruit crop in our country, and its peach harvest starts in mid to late May and can continue on until October.
There is nothing more delicious than eating a perfectly fresh peach out of hand. Sweet white peaches are common now at farmers stalls, but just fifteen to twenty years ago they were a relative rarity, even at farmers markets. Hugely popular because of their sweetness and mild, non-bitter taste, white peaches represent at least half of the peaches for sale at the Tuesday market. In recent years, however, I have been returning more often to the traditional yellow peach for a special treat. Perhaps it is a matter of individual preference, but I currently find fresh yellow peaches to have more of the characteristic peach taste I grew up with. Don’t get me wrong. I love both types of peach, but find myself turning to the white peaches when I want to emphasize sweet and to the yellow peaches when I want to emphasize peach.
My friend Margalo was lucky enough to have several yellow peach trees in her back yard when she lived in the San Gabriel Valley. She introduced me to a perfect – and perfectly simple – hot peach desert. She’d pick several fresh peaches, wash them, and slice each peach into eighths. Then she would heat a very large skillet, preferably cast iron, over a hot flame, and add a dab or two of butter, just enough to make sure that the entire skillet surface was covered. She’d toss in the peaches, and arrange them so that the cut surface of each (rather than the skin) was against the skillet. She would cook them over a slow flame until they began to render their juices. She’d then sprinkle them with cinnamon, and turn then so the other side could be cooked. When the insides were just beginning to soften, she’d take them off the flame. She’d serve them immediately just as they were. For a special treat, she’d prepare dishes of high quality vanilla ice cream, and then spoon peaches and their juice over the ice cream. Simple and delicious. You can skin the peaches before cooking them if you want, but since Margalo’s peaches were not sprayed, we didn’t bother with skinning them.
Fresh peach salsa has become very popular. It is a wonderful condiment to accompany some of the fresh ocean seafood from the J & P seafood truck at the Culver City Farmers Market. Fresh peach pie is a perennial summer-time favorite. The addition of a bit of sour cream and freshly grated nutmeg to the peaches adds interest and sophistication to a two-crust peach pie. You can use store-bought pie crusts as a time saver, or use your favorite recipe for pie crusts.
Sour Cream Peach Pie
(makes one nine-inch pie)
2 unbaked 9 inch pie crusts or your own recipe for pie crusts to make 2 nine inch crusts
2 lbs. (about 6 cups) peaches, peeled and sliced
1/2 c. sugar
3 T. cornstarch
pinch of salt
1/4 tsp. freshly grated nutmeg
1/2 c. sour cream
small amount of whole milk
small amount of sugar
Preheat oven to 425 degrees. If you are using your own pie crust recipe, roll out half the pastry and line the bottom of a 9-inch pie plate. Otherwise, just use one of the unbaked pie crusts in its pan. Place sliced peaches in the pie crust. Mix the sugar, cornstarch, salt and nutmeg. Add the sour cream to the dry ingredients, mixing well. Pour over fruit. Roll out the remaining pie crust, and cut into 1-inch wide strips. (If using premade crust, remove from pan and cut into strips.) Arrange strips into lattice pattern over peaches and sour-cream mixture in pie pan. Crimp the edges of the crust together along the rim. Use the tines of a fork to decorate the edges. Brush the top of the lattice with milk, and sprinkle with sugar. Bake for 10 minutes at 425 degrees, then reduce heat to 350 degrees. Continue baking for 45-50 minutes longer. Remove from oven and cool before serving.
Grilled Peach Salsa
(about 2 and 1/2 cups)
1 ear of corn, shucked
4 medium or 3 large ripe peaches, peeled and halved
1 large red onion, thickly sliced
3 tablespoons oil
1 tablespoon minced fresh Anaheim (for milder salsa) or jalapeno (for hotter salsa)
1 tablespoon peeled and minced fresh ginger
2 tablespoons minced fresh mint leaves
juice of 1 large lime, squeezed
salt and freshly ground pepper to taste
Best when ingredients are grilled over a moderately hot gas or charcoal grill. The ingredients can also be grilled in an oven heated to 500 degrees.
First, grill or roast the corn, turning occasionally, until most of the kernels are lightly browned and some of the kernels are beginning to get charred. Remove from heat and let cool.
Brush the onion slices and peach halves lightly with oil. Place on grill or lightly oiled jelly roll pan and cook for about four minutes on one side. Turn and cook an additional four minutes on the other side. The fruit and onion slices should be soft and just starting to char. Remove from heat and let cool.
Holding the end of the ear of corn, use a sharp knife to cut away the corn kernels. Remember to cut away, not toward, yourself. Place kernels in a medium non-reactive bowl. Chop the peaches and onion slices into bite-sized chunks and place in bowl. Toss to mix ingredients. In a small bowl, mix the minced chile, ginger, and mint leaves. Add the lime juice and a generous pinch of salt and several grinds of the pepper mill. Stir. Pour over the corn, peaches and chopped onions, and stir to distribute seasoning. Let stand for at least 5 minutes. Before serving, taste and adjust seasoning if desired. (Adopted from Mark Bittman’s How to Cook Everything Vegetarian.)
The Tuesday Culver City Farmers Market is held from 2 p.m. to 7 p.m. on Main Street between Venice and Culver Blvds.
Katie Malich’s current favorite peach variety is the yellow freestone O’Henry, but a perfectly ripe white peach like the Arctic Rose runs a very close second.