“The floor was soggy under his knees, the walls were wet and sticky, and peach juice was dripping from the ceiling.James opened his mouth and caught some of it on his tongue. It tasted delicious….Every few seconds he paused and took a bite out of the wall.”
James and the Giant Peach, Roald Dahl
I haven’t read this in years. Actually, I’ve never read it, but I listened to a gravelly recording of Roald Dahl so many times that I wore the tape out about 24 years ago. Every time peach season rolls around, I replay that passage over in my mind, his British accent punctuating the word “delicious” with special importance. Though Roald Dahl is assuredly not a food writer, I count this and a few other passages from James and the Giant Peach more drool-worthy than other purpose-written food selections. Maybe it was the British accent. Or maybe it’s just that easy to make peaches sound good.
With peaches, the stakes are high. You can’t pick them up like an apple, you kind of have to cup them in your hand like a bird, or something. I’ve always liked that. And with their heady fragrance and their soft, flushed skin, they hint at transcendence. Biting into a mealy, bland peach is like a broken promise. You can avoid this kind of bad experience altogether by finding the right farm that picks them at the right time. Much to my relief, I’ve never come across one of these tasteless mockeries at Feast! Vintage Virginia, in particular, has a peach for every palate and purpose: sweet white ones, tangy yellow ones, giant dribble-y ones. So what to do with these orbs of delicious juiciness? Read on.
• Bellini: Put two peeled peaches in the blender with 1 T simple syrup and 1 T lemon juice. Blend until perfectly smooth. Pour about 2 T into a champagne flute, top with Prosecco and stir gently to combine. Garnish with a slice of peach.
• Peach Julep: This recipe predates the much more famous mint julep and was developed by some famous sailor or other, whose name I’m not remembering. It’s a little more approachable because of the peachiness, but just as refreshing. Mix together one part lemon juice, one part simple syrup, two parts peach puree and two parts brandy. Smack 3 or 4 mint leaves in your hands to bruise them slightly and add them to the cup. Add crushed ice and churn to mix everything together and begin to chill the drink. Top your cup up with more crushed ice and garnish with a sprig and a slice.
Okay, we’re hear to eat too, right?
• Grilled Serrano-wrapped Peaches with Gorgonzola Dolce: Ham is so good with sweet things. Like the classic pairing of melon and prosciutto, this combo is more than the sum of its parts. Halve a peach and pull out the pit (a less frustrating task if you seek out “free stone” peaches). Stuff the hollow with Gorgonzola Dolce, wrap the whole thing up in Serrano ham, making sure the cheese-stuffed bit is thoroughly covered up. Secure with toothpicks. Now for the magic: pop these on a warm charcoal fire (or if you can’t do that, the broiler will work with a only a slightly less magical effect) and wait until the ham is beginning to crisp up a bit and you suspect the cheese has gone all warm, oozy and delicious. Remove from grill, devour.
• Salad: Get some nice arugula and dress it with a balsamic vinaigrette. Peel and slice some peaches and arrange them on top with some pancetta that you’ve crisped up in a pan. Crumble over ricotta salata or fresh chevre. The pepperiness of the arugula, the musky sweetness of the balsamic and the tart-sweet peaches are a great combo, and everything is better with bacon and cheese.
• Dessert: Peel and slice peaches, toss with a spoonful of sugar and let them macerate for an hour or so. Whip together 1 cup of heavy cream with 4 spoonfuls of mascarpone. Bash some gingernaps or amaretti cookies in a bag with a rolling pin or the heel of your hand (very therapeutic) until they are large crumbs. Take a pretty glass and layer peaches, cream and cookie, peaches, cream and cookie, until you reach the top. Serve immediately.
In the end, if you find yourself face to face with a perfect peach, I suggest you find a sink to stand over and don’t be concerned about keeping your face clean. If the juice is dribbling down your chin, you’re doing something right.