By Nancy Pollard
Peaches In Season And In History
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
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
8 ripe yellow peaches
½ cup caster sugar
1 shot of Vecchio Romagna Brandy or a similar French Brandy–about 2 tablespoons
1 bottle Prosecco, just out of the fridge
1. Preheat the oven to 400 degrees F.
2. Halve the peaches and remove the pits but do not peel them.
3. Place half of the peaches in an ovenproof baking dish and sprinkle with the sugar and brandy.
4. Cover them with foil and seal the edges.
5. Bake the peaches for about 15 to 20 minutes. They should become slightly softer, and there will be juice in the bottom of the baking dish.
6. Remove from the oven and allow to cool.
7. Put the roasted peaches, juices and the remaining uncooked peaches in a food processor and roughly purée them.
8. Push the pulp through a fine sieve. I use a spoonula (a curved spatula) for quickest results.
9. Using a cocktail shaker or a pitcher, pour in about 3 to 4 cups of the purée and add the same amount of prosecco. (Less purée to cold prosecco makes more of a cocktail-type drink and less of a fruit shake.)
10. Stir with a long spoon to combine (and also prevent the combination from fizzing over).
11. Gently pour through the lid of the cocktail shaker or pitcher into champagne coupes.
You can use a crémant instead of prosecco.
The purée base can be made in the morning or the day before.
Peach and Nectarine Salad With Slivered Almonds
This unusual salad comes from an equally unusual grilling book by Adam Perry Lang and Peter Kaminsky titled Charred & Scruffed. I am not familiar with Lang’s current restaurant project or other books, but his techniques in this book changed how we grill. Among other things that I now do is make an herb brush for certain recipes cooked over coals. We also now scruff the meat and make a wet paste to massage into it. I also enjoy making his salt mixes, which are baked. We serve this salad with grilled pork, and Lang suggests that it is good with fatty fish such as bluefish or any cut of lamb. You can prep the salad and caramelize the peaches earlier in the day. Don’t add the initial oil and lime juice or the additional dressing until you are ready to serve.
- Spread the sugar on a plate and coat the cut sides of the peaches with the sugar.
- Heat a flat cast-iron griddle or large cast-iron skillet over medium-high heat until sizzling hot.
- Add the butter and let it melt, then add the peaches, cut side down.
- Cook until the peaches are well caramelized on the cut surface, about 4 to 5 minutes.
- Transfer peaches to a plate.
- Combine the nectarines, red onion, greens and cilantro in a bowl large enough to fit the combined ingredients.
- Mix the lime juice and olive oil, salt and pepper (taste first and correct if necessary) and toss the mixture in the bowl gently with the dressing.
- Mound the nextarine salad onto a platter and arrange the caramelized peaches around the perimeter.
- Drizzle with some balsamic vinegar, extra-virgin olive oil, sprinkle the almonds over the top and serve.
Sometimes I have used almond oil in the dressing instead of olive oil.
One summer, the Italy Insider—daughter Tatiana Pollard, who lives in Italy—and I decided we would make peach cobblers in response to an abundant peach-picking field trip. Originally a quest to share the joys of fruit harvesting with the Italy Insider’s 6-year-old son, the unifying family event at a pick-your-own farm eventually dissolved with like-minded grandfather and grandson handing us their unfinished bag with 3 or 4 peaches as they retired to the car to play airplane pilots. We were determined to fill all our prepaid bags no matter the consequences. Cut to a kitchen with a countertop covered with pounds of peaches. We lined up several cobbler recipes—biscuity topping, crumbly topping and a sort of a slumpy topping—all from baking books I loved and splattered. She then found Rebecca Rather’s book The Pastry Queen, from which I have baked her Whole Lemon Muffins, Jail House Rolls, Pumpkin Roll, Tuxedo Cake, Muchas Leches Cake . . . you get the picture.
“Why don’t we do her recipe for peach cobbler?” my daughter queried. Nope, I had passed it over because it looked too weird to be good. Browned butter, then a flour-sugar-milk batter literally thrown on top, then unpeeled peaches, then brown sugar and then baked. No Way. It turned out to be so superior and deliciously peachy and caramelly and crusty, we have never gone back. It passes the next-day-for-breakfast test with flying colors. It is a Texas Hill Country tradition, which Rebecca Rather tweaked to perfection and I will tweak no further.
Hill Country Peach Cobbler
- Preheat oven to 350F (175C).
- Melt the butter in a small saucepan (copper is great for this) over medium heat.
- When the butter bubbles, watch for a light golden brown color and then remove from heat. (Browned butter, or “beurre noisette,” can become burnt butter or “beurre brûlé” in seconds.)
- Pour the butter into any baking dish that will hold about 6 to 8 cups (1.5L) of ingredients.
- In a medium-size bowl, stir together the granulated sugar, flour, baking powder and milk.
- Pour this mixture on top of the melted butter.
- DO NOT STIR.
- Arrange the peaches evenly on top of the batter.
- Sprinkle the brown sugar evenly on top of the peaches.
- Bake the cobbler for 30 to 40 minutes. The top should be golden brown.
- Serve warm or at room temperature—with vanilla ice cream is even better.
As she says, the batter does indeed migrate from the bottom of the pan to partially cover the peaches. Divine and easy.
We found that it bakes better in ceramic or porcelain than in glass or metal.
Don’t use a deep casserole as it makes the batter too mushy at the end of the baking time.
Oval or rectangular shapes bake better than square or round.