Lifestyle & Culture

Kitchen Detail: Everything’s Coming Up Peaches


By Nancy Pollard

After owning one of the best cooking stores in the US for 47 years, Nancy Pollard writes Kitchen Detail, a blog about food in all its aspects—recipes, film, books, travel, superior sources and food-related issues.

Peaches In Season And In History

fruit mosaic including peaches at Villa Romana del Casale

Fruit mosaic from the Villa Romana del Casale, in the town of Piazza Amerina, in Sicily.

In anticipation of the grand opening of BLT season, certain persons in the KD abode get so excited about the first semi-decent tomatoes followed by the truly good ones, which arrive in the beginning of July,  that we almost forget that local peaches are in too. Unlike lettuce or oranges, peaches just have to be in season. Originally from China, they were brought West first by Persians. Apparently Alexander the Great was so impressed with the fruit, he had them brought to Greece after his successful military campaign against Persia. Peaches showed up in Rome in the first century BC and were obviously prized by Romans as well, appearing in paintings found in the excavations of Herculaneum near Vesuvius and in the remarkably preserved mosaics of the Villa Romana del Casale in Sicily. But the introduction of peaches to the Americas goes to the Spanish explorers in the 16th century. Around the same time in Renaissance Italy, not only were peaches painted and eaten but their pits were used (as they also were in China) to carve the most intricate images.

The Other Lives Of Peach Pits

Properzia de Rossi piece from the Web Gallery OF Art site

Properzia de’ Rossi, Grassi Family Coat of Arms at the Museo Civico Medievale, Bologna, c. 1510-30. From, courtesy of Irene Graziani at the University of Bologna.

detail from De Rosssi coat of arms with peach pits from Wikipedia

Detail of St. Peter in Properzia de’ Rossi, Grassi Family Coat of Arms at the Museo Civico Medievale, Bologna, c. 1510-30. From, courtesy of Irene Graziani at the University of Bologna.

Perhaps the most famous is the piece created by Properzia de’ Rossi in the 16th century. Peaches and pits aside, I find her biography fasicinating. She was not born into a family of artists but to a notary in Bologna. She had a staggering number of barriers as she studied, apprenticed and worked in ateliers in her native city. Properzia started as a painter and at some point transitioned into carving and sculpture. She apparently was quite beautiful, intelligent and a noted musician. She entered this piece in a competition for the coat of arms of the Grassi family. The apostles are engraved on one side of the  eleven peach pits and female saints on the other. The theory is that she could not afford more costly materials as she did later in her short 40 year life. She also worked in marble and did beautiful engraving. Even though there were a number of women artists at that time in Bologna, Properzia de’ Rossi is the only one featured in Vasari’s fascinating and gossipy book, Lives Of Artists. If you visit Bologna, do take time to see her work in Museo Civico Medievale and Museo di San Petronio.

The History Of Our Favorite Peach Recipes

Roasted Peach Bellini

2 thoughts on “Kitchen Detail: Everything’s Coming Up Peaches

  1. Ernie says:

    Great recipes keep it up!
    When does Grace start her column?

    1. Janet Kelly says:

      As soon as possible, if I can persuade her to do it! Have any influence?

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