Heavy rain at the beginning of the summer and unseasonably cool temperatures this past month have made for an uneven fruit and vegetable growing season in New York this year. To put it bluntly, this has has not been a great year for some local produce. Berry season was a few weeks shorter than usual and we should be getting into peak season for local corn, but so far it has been very hit and miss. (Make sure you peel back the husk to see if the whole kernels extend all the way up to the top of the ear.) I had some the other day and it lacked the sweetness normally found in Long Island corn.
Local peaches, though, have been the most consistent local produce item of the late summer. PersonalIy I like East Coast peaches much better than the West Coast peaches (i.e. California) that are “tree-ripened” but never really seem to become all that ripe. More often than not, West Coast peaches become mealy and mushy. And then there is their appearance. They look like a steroid-era Barry Bonds. Or more exactly his head. Bald, bloated and unnaturally large. No peach should ever be that large. So stay away from them.
The East Coast peaches most people know of are from South Carolina and Georgia. These are great early season (late spring and early summer) options in my opinion. Although Georgia has become the more famous state for its peaches, I think South Carolina actually produces the better fruit. Both varieties fall somewhere in the middle of local peaches and West Coast peaches. Not as much fuzz as the locals and not quite as big as the West Coast ones. Later in the summer you will see peaches from New Jersey and New York. But most importantly you want the ones coming from smaller farms.
There are a few ways to identify a local peach that is grown on a small farm. They have more fuzz than your mass-produced peaches. They also tend to have more bruises and are more imperfect in shape (you can think of them as heirloom peaches because they have many of the imperfections found in heirloom varieties of other fruits and vegetables). Local peaches will also be more ripe than they might seem when you touch them. Even though they may seem somewhat hard, the flesh is most likely tender and ripe on the inside. They’ve been sitting out in the hot summer heat so they’ve had plenty of time to reach perfection before you have picked them up. I recommend keeping them at room temperature for one day. Then you can put them in the refrigerator. But even with refrigeration these peaches will not last as long. So eat them within a few days of purchase.
This Week’s Tip: When picking a peach I look for a nice red blush on the outside of the fruit. This blush tells you that the fruit has a good amount of sugar in it. In fact, the sugar is what turns the outside of the fruit red. Sometimes this blush will actually seep into the flesh of the peach. You can’t ask for more flavor than that!