Peaches are a favorite food of Americans. There is peach pie, peach cobbler, sweet peach tea, peach turnovers, peach compote, and peaches & cream pie.
Ever stop to think how this wonder fruit got to the shores of America? Peaches were long believed to be from Persia. The name for peaches around the world reflects this origin. Dig around a little deeper into the history of peaches and we find that peaches actually originated in Northwest China – at least according to scientific testing that backs up millennia-old Chinese folktales.
There are several varieties of peaches. The ones known in the United States are the sweet yellow kind. Recently the “doughnut” peach, the smaller flatter cousin with white flesh and more tartness, have made an appearance in our grocery stores. And don’t think nectarines get off so easily. Nectarines are peaches without the fuzziness.
The peach tree has spawned much folklore over thousands of years. It is the fruit of longevity. An elixir of immortality can be made if you know the right alchemy.
The Chinese have lore surrounding the peach. It is viewed as a lucky tree. It protects from evil spirits. Amulets made of peach wood protect the wearer from evil spirits. Peaches were known as the fruit of emperors and kings. Peaches were gifted to Alexander the Great, circa 300 BCE. and planted throughout the Mediterranean. Finally, through European explorers, peaches landed on the shores of the Americas.
Peaches were not farmed as cash crops until the late 1800’s. They were grown in groves for personal consumption. Peaches don’t travel well; they bruise easily so need gentle handling. Once the refrigerated rail car was put into use, peaches could be picked early and travel around the country. Unfortunately, this makes them less tasty. Peaches ripen better on a tree then they do in stasis. Having modified the fruit for long distance transport, we have lost some of the appeal of the summer peach, its sweet scent and juicy goodness.
But don’t let that distract you from eating this stone fruit, especially when picked at the right moment. Peaches are full of vitamin C, iron, and fiber. They contain free radical agents that help the immune system fight off disease. Best of all, they taste so good with ice cream, made into a ginger spiced compote, or just eaten fresh right off the tree.
This is the time to enjoy peaches (August is National Peach Month). Using safe canning practices, you can preserve this summer goodness to be consumed when the cold days of winter hit you in the face. Look for them at a farmers market where they might be as fresh as yesterday’s picking.