Sweet, succulent fruit signals the start of summer

Published 12:00 am Wednesday, May 30, 2001

Wednesday, May 30, 2001

The Natchez Democrat

Since arriving in North America by way of the Spaniards, peaches

have become one of the most well-loved fruits, showing up in desserts,

jams, preserves and even entre\u00E9s.

To celebrate this succulent symbol of summer, the Main&160;Street

Marketplace, Alcorn State University, the City of Natchez and

the U.S. Department of Agriculture Extension Office are planning

the first Natchez Peach Festival as part of a year-long series

of food-related events at the downtown farmer’s market.

Helen Brooks, Alcorn’s area coordinator for agriculture and

natural resources, said the June 16th festival will offer peachy

tastes such as peach smoothies, peach shortcake and peach ice

cream sundaes.

Hungry for more? Children can also compete for prizes in a

peach-bobbing contest and a peach-eating contest at 1 p.m.

Alcorn agricultural researchers will be on hand with free resources

on how to grow, cook and preserve peaches. The day’s activities

will begin at 9 a.m. and end at 4 p.m.

Brooks said many of the peaches being used at the festival

are from Louisiana, with others coming from Georgia. Waterproof

farmer H.C. Miller III has some of his own peach produce on sale

now at Main Street Marketplace.

In the past, most of the area’s peaches originated in Florida,

but Brooks said peach farming is becoming more popular across

the South, even in Mississippi, where mild winters and early springs

make for perfect peaches.

&uot;We’re getting them closer and closer to home each year,&uot;

she said.

And having the source so nearby is evidenced in the peach’s

taste. As with any produce, the less time between the field and

the consumer, the fresher the product.

&uot;That’s the purpose of a farmer’s market – to get produce

fresh from the fields and not have to go through all the various

channels,&uot; Brooks said.

Whether buying from the farmer’s market or the supermarket,

Diana Rattray, a cook and recipe collector living in Mississippi,

suggests selecting only those peaches that are fragrant, free

of blemishes and firm, but not hard.

Avoid peaches that have a greenish tint, a sure sign they were

picked too early. Because peaches don’t continue to sweeten after

picking, those that are plucked when ripe are best, Rattray says.

When purchasing peaches either from a farmer, a market or a

supermarket, be sure to take home only as many peaches as you

are sure to use. Peaches are highly-perishable and spoil easily

even when not fully ripe.

A useful tip in peeling peaches is to blanch them in boiling

water for one minute, then plunge in cold water immediately to

stop the effects of the heat. This helps separate the skin from

the fruit and makes peeling easier. To keep peeled peaches from

discoloring before serving, try sprinkling a small amount of lemon

or lime juice over them or sealing them in an air-tight container.

Of course, once you have your peaches in hand, you might want

to try some of these recipes:

Mixed Fruit Summer Pudding

1 pint fresh blueberries, stemmed, rinsed and drained

1 pint fresh raspberries, gently rinsed and drained

3 cups coarsely chopped, peeled ripe peaches (about 3 large

peaches)

3/4 cup sugar

1 cup water

3 tablespoons fresh lemon juice

17 slices firm white sandwich bread, crusts removed

2 tablespoons chopped fresh mint

6 ounces cream (optional)

Fresh mint sprigs for garnish

Combine the berries and peaches with the sugar, water and lemon

juice in a large saucepan. Stir together gently, taking care not

to break up the berries and bring to a simmer over medium heat.

Simmer, uncovered, until the fruit releases its juices and the

liquid has just about doubled in volume, five to 10 minutes. Remove

from heat and pour contents into a large bowl to cool.

Meanwhile, cut each slice of bread into two triangles.

Add the chopped mint to the cooled fruit mixture, and ladle

1/2 cup of the fruit into a 2-quart, domed-shaped mixing bowl

or mold. Dip the triangles of bread, one at a time, into the remaining

fruit mixture, quickly saturating the bread with the juices. Place

a single solid layer of bread slices over the fruit in the bowl,

forming a neat pinwheel with the points meeting at the center

(absolute geometric perfection is not required.) Ladle 1 cup of

the fruit and juices over the bread. Repeat layering, increasing

the quantity of fruit by 1/2 cup each time and finishing with

a layer of bread. Cover with plastic wrap, laying it directly

on the bread, and set a light weight on top of the plastic wrap

to compress the layers (a plate topped with a soup can will do.)

Refrigerate overnight.

To unmold the pudding, gently loosen the sides with a knife

and invert it onto a large serving platter. Slice, and top each

serving with a large spoonful of cream or whipped cream, if desired.

Garnish with sprigs of fresh mint.

Adapted from &uot;Hay Day Country Market Cookbook&uot;

Peppered Peach and Vidalia Onion Salad

6 ripe peaches, peeled and thinly sliced

1 large Vidalia onion, peeled, halved lengthwise and sliced

into thin crescents

Juice of 1 large lemon

1/8 teaspoon cayenne pepper

1/2 teaspoon kosher or coarse salt

Freshly ground black pepper

1 large bunch fresh arugula, rinsed well and drained (or substitute

3 to 4 cups mixed fresh greens)

Combine the peach and onion slices in a large bowl. Sprinkle

with the lemon juice, cayenne, salt and several grindings of black

pepper. Toss thoroughly, and refrigerate to chill for at least

1 hour before serving. (The salad can be prepared to this point

up to a day in advance.)

Arrange a small bed of crisp green arugula on each salad plate,

and top with the chilled peaches and onions. Drizzle the juices

from the bowl over all, and serve immediately.

Adapted from &uot;Hay Day Country Market Cookbook&uot;

Peach Cobbler

8 tablespoons butter

1 cup sugar

3/4 cup self-rising flour

3/4 cup milk

2 cups sliced fresh peaches

1 cup sugar

1 cup water

In a heavy saucepan, combine peaches, 1 cup sugar and water.

Bring mixture to a boil and then simmer for about 10 minutes.

Stir often, making sure sugar is completely dissolved. Remove

from heat and let cool.

Preheat the oven to 350 degrees. Put butter in a deep baking

dish and place in oven to melt. Mix 1 cup sugar and flour; add

milk slowly to prevent lumping. Pour over melted butter. Do not

stir. Spoon fruit on top, gently pouring in syrup. Still do not

stir; batter will rise to top during baking. Bake for 30 to 45

minutes. Serve with fresh whipped cream or vanilla ice cream.

Adapted from &uot;The Lady & Sons Savannah Country Cookbook&uot;