Remember when I said that summer always evokes the thought of peaches in me? And that I still seem to remember how much more flavorful, juicy, and sticky they were when I bit into them as a child? And that they were so seasonal that you could only get them during summer? Well, I thought I needed to learn more about peaches. Here goes.
Actually, there was a painful period of time when I was allergic against raw peaches. And against cherries, apricots, apples, plums, and almonds in the raw, too. That’s when I learned that they all belong to the family of roses. Indeed! Thankfully, the allergy has receded with age, and today I can enjoy the fruit with the Latin name prunus persica, i.e. Persian plum again. Originally cultivated in Northwest China as early as around 6,000 B.C., the peach made its way into Persia. One fun fact I discovered in my research is that whereas marzipan is made from almonds (which I knew), persipan is made from the inside of the peach stone (therefore the name, again derived from the Latin name!). Even the French term pêche comes from the reference to Persia.
As a kid I loved peaches so well that I wanted to grow a peach tree of my own. And it worked. The core sprouted and grew. The plant even survived a move and transfer from a pot into the ground. It didn’t survive a willful landscaper’s lawn mower though. And many were the tears I shed about my murdered little tree. It had been about 3 feet tall already. Today it would be up to 23 feet tall and up to 13 feet wide. It would blossom pink and produce fruit with velvety skin (nectarines are related, but you all know, of course, that they are smooth-skinned). I can’t remember though whether the core I had planted was a clingstone or a freestone, I.e. whether the flesh stuck to it or not before I devoured the fruit. What I DO know now, though, is that it was definitely an acidic, yellow-fleshed variety, as these are preferred by Europeans (and North Americans) over the low-acidic, white-fleshed ones.
Was it Alexander the Great, who brought the peach to Europe? Because Greece started cultivating peaches around the time of his conquerings. Peach trees are also depicted on murals in Pompei, the city that was destroyed by Italian volcano Vesuvius in 79 A.D. Strangely enough, the peach made it to America earlier than to England and France, who only discovered the delicacy in the 17th century. Thomas Jefferson had peach trees in Monticello, by the way. Commercial production of peaches in the US started only in the 19th century. Steilacoom’s own orchard pioneer Nathaniel Orr, though, would have failed cultivating peaches due to the Pacific Northwest’s wet climate. Peaches are rather subtropical. Though I wonder how they came to appear year after year in a neighbor’s garden in my German hometown with not such a different climate from Western Washington. They were white-fleshed summer peaches – and I know so because I used to pluck one or the other as a child from out of the dense green foliage.
Ever since coming here to the Pacific Northwest, I have been surprised by the variety of peaches over here. There are those that look as if they had been ironed flat. There are different colors and sizes. It’s fun going through the produce department especially of ethnic or produce-specialized supermarkets. I guess, most of the peaches come from California, though Georgia is also known as the “Peach State”. And Delaware’s state flower is the peach blossom.
Have you ever heard the phrase that somebody is a peach? Indeed, not a strawberry or an apple or a cherry, but a peach? Why is somebody who is kind and likable compared to a peach and not to one of the other likable fruits? Just wondering because I haven’t found anything on this fun fact.
Now is the time to enjoy peaches again. Summer. Or you boil them down and can them to get yourself a taste of summer on a bleak and gray winter day as a jam or compote. Did I say that my mother used to make the most amazing peach champagne cake that was all fluffy lightness and insanely seductive?! I haven’t ever tried the recipe, as I’m not a baker. And the calories would just add to my hip gold, as Germans call the superfluous pounds in that bodily area.
Ah peaches! These fragrant, aromatic fruits that even made it into a popsicle called “Kilimanjaro” back in my childhood days … Summer is here – I guess I need to get my fill yet.