Partial to peaches? Late summer rocks

By: Gloria Young Home & Garden
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It’s peak time for peaches. Weeks and weeks of basking in the summer sun bring the fruit to juicy, sweet perfection during August and early September. There’s a lot more to peaches than simply “yellow” or “white.” Local growers cultivate dozens of varieties that ripen at different times from May into September. The Fay Elbertas, in season now, are one of Auburn resident Joanne Neft’s favorites. “It’s a freestone (variety),” said Neft, explaining that freestone means the flesh comes away easily from the seed, as opposed to clingstone varieties that cling to the seed. Neft, co-author of the “Placer County Real Food” cookbook, says her favorites are the O’Henrys, which arrive in late August and are available into September. “It has the deepest and most complex flavor and it has the dark peach color,” she said. Neft prepares peaches with the skin on them because “the skin has two-thirds of the vitamins and minerals,” she said. Recently she was making a peach galette. “It’s a rustic kind of peach pie,” she said. “You don’t have to worry about fancy crust. You roll out a piece of dough ... and stitch the pastry to the peaches. Bake it at 400 for 45 minutes and it is ambrosia.” Peaches are great on the grill, too. “For a simple dessert, slice the peaches (leaving the skin on them), add some sliced figs, throw raspberries over the top and put on a dollop of crème fraiche,” Neft said. “It’s the best way to eat them." Or she suggests putting on a little butter or olive oil and roasting them in the oven with some lemon verbena for five or 10 minutes at 400 degrees. “If you want them a little sweeter, drizzle a little honey with the butter,” she said. Canning is the best option for enjoying peaches through the winter. “Peaches don’t freeze well because they get brown,” Neft explained. To extend the goodness of fresh peaches, she purees them with some lemon juice, then keeps the mixture in the fridge. With a tightly closed lid, it will last as long as three weeks, she said. She adds the puree to tapioca pudding, spoons it over ice cream or uses it as a syrup on pancakes and waffles. Twin Peaks Orchards in Newcastle grows 30 types of peaches. This year, because of the unusually long cold season, the first three crops in the spring were frozen, ranch owner Sheila Enriquez said recently. “After that, we have overlapping ones that start about every two weeks. Each week there’s another variety coming on,” she said. In mid-to-late August the Angelus variety was ripe for market. “That’s a yellow peach. It’s a really good one,” Enriquez said. “They’re more of the yellow-striped ones, rather than the bright reds.” At Twin Peaks, the fruit ripens on the tree and is hand-picked. The Enriquez family introduced a couple of different varieties of stone fruit this year. “We have a fabulous nectarine that is brand new called a Zephyr,” Sheila Enriquez said. It’s a large white fruit with a higher acid content, she explained. Another new one is the Snow Princess, also a white peach. “There was a real rage about five years ago where everyone wanted white fruit,” Enriquez said. “It is hard to grow because the bugs like it, too. “ An old favorite is the Paradise peach. “We’ve had Paradise peaches forever and they’ve been so good,” she said. Twin Peaks’ fruit is available at some supermarkets. The Enriquez family also sells at farmers markets from Truckee and Tahoe City to Sebastopol and Santa Rosa and including the Auburn farmers market on Saturdays. Twin Peaks has been in operation for nearly 100 years and will celebrate its centennial next year with a big summer tasting the third week in July. Machado Orchards in Auburn has been growing peaches since the 1920s. This year, the crop was nearly decimated by the cold spring, Shawnee Machado said. “Our peaches are just starting right now,” Machado said. “We’ve had them for a couple of weeks. They’ll (be available) all the way through September. We lost about 90 percent because of rain and cold and the bees didn’t get out.” Among Machado’s varieties are Fair Time, late Alamar, Summerset, O’Henrys, Fay Elberta and Sierra Ladies as well as Snow Giants, a white peach. “Right now it is the O’Henrys and Sierra Ladies,” Machado said. And although the crop is lighter than usual, it is top quality. “The later the season, the longer on the tree, the sweeter they’re going to be,” Machado said. “They’re very good (this year) because of the fact there are only a few on the tree — the least amount of peaches, the more nourishment in each of them. Because there are fewer, they prosper and get bigger and sweeter.” At Machado’s, which is known for its pies, peaches are also available by the box for canning. She also suggests picking up a few unbaked pies and keeping them in the freezer. “They keep six months,” she said. Reach Gloria Young at gloriay