Like most fruits, peaches originated in China and arrived in the United States via the Middle East and Europe. Tender, juicy, and aromatic, peaches are thought of as a southern fruit, but California and New Jersey grow huge crops as well. In fact, any temperate area with a long enough growing season will produce peaches, and peaches grown in your area and picked fully ripe are usually your top choice. Of all the laces they’re grown, though, I think Georgia and the Carolinas still produce the best.
Peaches are definitely a summer fruit, with the peak of the season beginning in late July and running through early September. In the winter there are imports from Chile, but because ripe peaches are so fragile, they’re nearly always picked green and have very little flavor. For the best peaches, wait until they’re in season in your area, then, get your fill. Peeled, sliced peaches freeze well, so you can put some away to enjoy when good fresh peaches aren’t available.
When choosing peaches; use your eyes and your nose. Choose brightly colored fruit without traces of green, without bruising, and with a plump, smooth skin that shows no sign of wrinkling or withering. A really ripe peach will have a good fragrance.
Peaches picked hard-ripe but with good color will ripen if you leave them out on the counter, unrefrigerated, for two or three days or put them in a brown paper bag to hasten the process. Don’t refrigerate until they’re fully ripe, and then don’t keep them in the refrigerator for more than a day or two. Like nectarines, peaches lose juice and flavor if they’re refrigerated too long.
The sizing system used for California peaches is derived from the original method of place packing tree fruit into layers deep in a wooden lug. Today this type of container is referred to as a two-layer, tray-packed or "panta-pak" box. Peach size designations are based on the number of pieces of fruit, which can be placed in this two-layer, tray-packed box. For example, there are 56 pieces of fruit in a two-layer, tray-packed box of size 56 peaches.
Through the years, the industry has developed a number of additional pack styles including loose-packed volume-fill boxes, consumer bags, single-layer trays and metric boxes. To accommodate every pack style, the sizing system used by the industry today is regulated according to the maximum number of nectarines in a 16-pound sample. Weigh-counts are set for each size designation and are regulated by the industry through third-party inspection at time of packing.
Approximate minimum diameters have been determined for each size designation, but the true standard of size is the weight-count sample. California peaches, regulated by federal marketing orders, have been inspected to ensure fruit meets minimum weight-counts for the designated size.
Shoulders - The bulge surrounding the stem basin. Shoulders become full and well rounded as the fruit matures on the tree.
Background Color - The yellow color on the skin of peaches and nectarines is the key to determining fruit ripeness. Look for bright yellow to orange colors with no hint of green to indicate a mature piece of fruit.
Blush - The red or bright orange blush on a peach or nectarine is caused by exposure of the fruit to sunlight. This lends a more appealing look to the fruit, but is NOT an indication of ripeness or maturity. Blush may cover anywhere from 10 percent to 100 percent of the fruit surface depending on variety.
Blossom End (tip) - The end opposite the stem. This is often the first part of the fruit to soften when ripe.
Suture - A structural line running from the stem to the blossom end of the fruit. The suture may develop as a cleft or a prominent bulge depending on variety.
Cheek - The sides of the fruit on either side of the suture. The cheeks of well- matured fruit should be plump.
Pit or Stone - The pit or stone (seed) supports the fruit as it hangs from the stem and provides the conduit for nutrients from the tree as the fruit grows. The flesh adheres to the pit in "clingstone" varieties and is easily separated from the pit in "freestone" varieties.
Flesh - The edible inside portion of a peach or nectarine. It can vary slightly in color, but traditional varieties normally have yellow or orange colored flesh. Some varieties may have a darker red flesh radiating from the pits as the fruit matures and ripens. "White flesh" varieties, as the name implies, will have a much paler, almost white appearance.
Most fresh California peaches and nectarines grow in the San Joaquin Valley, just south of Fresno, CA. There are over 200 varieties of peaches and 175 varieties of nectarines sold commercially from California. Summerwhite¨ varieties of peaches and nectarines represent about 20% of the total California peach and nectarine crop.
How to Tell if Fresh Peaches and Nectarines Are Really Ripe and Ready to Eat
When fresh California peaches and nectarines are really ripe and ready to eat, the fruit will become very aromatic and give to gentle palm pressure. However, since fruit will not ship well when it is very soft, fruit available in the store may still be firm. Firm tree fruit can be purchased and ripened to perfection easily at home.
How to Ripen Peaches and Necterines to Juicy, Sweet Perfection at Home
Simply place peaches and nectarines in a loosely-closed ordinary paper bag and set on the kitchen counter for one to three days - away from direct sunlight. Check daily for ripeness. When ripe, the fruit will become very aromatic and give to gentle palm pressure. After the fruit is ripe, it can be placed in the refrigerator for up to a week or so.
The Wrong Way to Handle Peaches and Nectarines
Never place firm tree fruit in the refrigerator as this will halt the ripening process and may make the fruit mealy, dry and tasteless. Never store tree fruit in a plastic bag as this may hasten decay. Also, keep tree fruit away from direct sunlight as extreme heat will damage the fruit. When the fruit is ripe and you can keep it in the refrigerator for a week or so. You can tell when peaches and nectarines become really ripe when they become aromatic and give to gentle palm pressure.
How to Prepare Fresh California Peaches and Nectarines
Preparing fresh California peaches and nectarines is quick and easy; just rinse under cool water and they're ready to use. There is never a need to peel nectarines or peaches, unless the recipe calls for it, as most peach fuzz is removed when the fruit is packed.
Availability of Fresh California Peaches and Nectarines
In a normal year, California peaches are available April through October, plums are available May through October and nectarines are available April through September.
The Skinny on Peaches, Plums and Nectarines
Antioxidant-Rich Summer Fruits Are a Natural in Protecting the Skin
May 29, 2001 - REEDLEY, Calif. - As the hot weather sets in, science is ripe with suggestions for healthy summer skin.
In short, practice what you peach.
Consumers stock up each summer on sunscreen, sunglasses, and cover-ups to protect their skin from the sun, but some of the most effective combatants in the battle against the sun's harmful ultraviolet (UV) rays can be found in the produce section at the local grocery store.
It's no secret that fruits and vegetables are important for good health. According to the National Cancer Institute, eating five servings of fruits and vegetables a day can reduce the risk of cancer. Several national health organizations concur with those recommendations for the prevention of heart disease and other illnesses.
A less well-known fact, however, is that summer fruits like peaches and nectarines also have phytochemicals (chemical compounds produced by plants) that are important for healthy skin. A recent study from the University of California-Davis showed peaches and nectarines from California are good sources of several phytochemicals which act as antioxidants. These compounds are critical in maintaining healthy skin.
Antioxidants are substances that protect the body by capturing free radicals and eliminating them. Free radicals causes cell damage and can contribute to aging. Here's how antioxidants work to protect the skin. People experience two types of aging: intrinsic aging, which is mainly affected by genetics and lifestyle; and photo aging, which refers to skin changes resulting from exposure to UV rays.
Aging happens when there is an imbalance of pro-oxidants - free radicals - and antioxidants in the skin's cells. The sun's UV rays can accelerate free radical production while at the same time depleting antioxidants. Photo aging happens when damage from UV rays affects skin cell function, usually reflected in rougher, drier, wrinkled and less elastic skin.
Antioxidants protect skin cells by counteracting free radical activity. Peaches and nectarines are rich in phytochemicals called phenols that act as antioxidants. Asorbic acid (Vitamin C), carotenoids (orange or red colored substances found in many fruits), and provitamin A/beta-carotene are the most notable.
"Peaches and nectarines are a delicious way for everyone to get their 5-a-day," said Pat Baird, MA, RD, and author of The Pyramid Cookbook. "They are great sources of fiber, vitamins, and minerals, and now we learn they are good sources of antioxidants which are important to good health and good skin."
"Summer tree fruits have long been considered a delicious source of nutrition, but the fact that the benefits extend to promoting healthy skin is great news for consumers," said Marilyn Dolan, consumer programs director for the California Tree Fruit Agreement, which represents approximately 2,000 peach, plum and nectarines growers in the state of California, "Especially those interested in maintaining a peaches-and-cream complexion."
California tree fruits are available from mid-May through September.
Preparation Tips and Facts
Once fruit is soft, it can be stored in the refrigerator for a week or more. Depending on the variety, ripe fruit will last for about a week in the refrigerator. But make sure it's ripe before you put it in. Again, an ordinary paper bag is all you need to get your tree fruit really ripe, every time.
Never leave fruit in a plastic bag. Keeping fruit in a plastic bag will hasten decay and can produce off-flavors.
Keep fruit away from the windowsill. Setting fruit on or near your window sill in direct sunlight can cause it to shrivel. High heat actually damages tree fruit.
How to peel peaches. Put them in boiling water for 10 seconds or until the skins split. Plunge them into ice water to cool and prevent cooking. The skins will slip right off.
How to prevent browning on the fruits' cut surfaces. Dip slices of fruit in a mixture of 1 cup water and 1 tablespoon lemon juice or simply squeeze fresh lemon juice over cut surfaces.
Peaches and nectarines belong to the rose family.
Which came first-the nectarine or the peach? Prominent pomologist, such as Luther Burbank, had argued that the nectarine actually predates the peach and that the nectarine, not the peach, represents the ancestral form. Nectarines take their name from the drink of the Olympic gods called "nectar."
Select High Quality Fruit
How do you know you are buying a good quality peach or nectarine? It may be easier than you think. If you're buying fruit to eat tonight, it is best to look for fruit that is soft, gives to gentle palm pressure and has a sweet aroma.
However, quality does not depend on softness. Even firm peaches and nectarines will ripen to juicy perfection at home. So, don't be afraid to buy them. Buying firm fruit is very much like buying a green banana or a hard avocado. It will become soft, sweet and juicy if handled properly.
The best indicator of high quality fruit is color. For peaches and nectarines, check to make sure the "background" color is yellow with no hint of green. Don't worry about how much red color is on the fruit, this will vary by variety. The yellow color is what's important.
Ripen fruit in a Paper Bag
It's easy to ripen firm peaches or nectarines. Simply place the fruit inside a paper bag, loosely close the top and keep it at room temperature for a day or two. As peaches and nectarines ripen they give off a natural hormone called ethylene. The paper bag traps the ethylene close to the fruit, while still allowing for the exchange of air into and out of the bag. Plastic bags will not work and can cause off-flavors in the fruit.
Remember; Never Place Firm Peaches or Nectarines In The Refrigerator
This can cause a type of damage called "internal breakdown." If you've ever had a dry or mealy peach, you've experienced "internal breakdown" and it's caused by storing fruit at the wrong temperatures. This can happen in your home refrigerator or at your grocer store. Once fruit is soft and gives to gentle palm pressure, it may be stored in the refrigerator for several days without damage. That's really all there is to it!
Other recipes from Produce Pete.