Seasonal Pantry: Arctic Gem peach season short but sweet

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The term “terroir,” casually translated as “taste of place,” is typically used to describe unique qualities in a wine that can be attributed to its specific environment, but it also can be applied to other crops, as everything that comes from the earth without chemical inputs is an expression of its natural environment.

One of the best examples of terroir in Sonoma County is the little patch of land at 2179 Yoakim Bridge Road in Healdsburg known as Dry Creek Peach and Produce. Last week, the farm’s famous Arctic Gem white peaches were ready for picking, a harvest that will likely end this week. Although everything this sweet little farm produces is delicious, the Arctic Gem white peach is the epitome of its annual harvest.

One bite reveals a succulent richness, a silken texture, qualities that come together to create happy magic in your mouth.

Berkeley’s Chez Panisse honors this peach by offering it as a stand-alone dessert. It arrives at your table on a plate, with a knife. Nothing a chef can do with this peach improves upon what nature has already done. There’s just one downside: This peach is so extraordinary that it may ruin your taste for other varieties.

The Arctic Gem season is short, just a couple of weeks, so you need to indulge now or wait until next year. You’ll find the peaches at Saturday farmers markets in Santa Rosa (50 Mark West Springs Road) and Healdsburg (North and Wine streets, one black west of the plaza). The farm store is open now, too, typically noon-5 p.m. Wednesday and Friday-Sunday. It’s always a good idea to call ahead, 433-8121.

Enjoy your first several Arctic Gems with nothing more than a napkin to wipe the dripping juices from your fingers and chin. Once you’ve sated your passion a bit, enjoy the peaches sliced, halved and grilled or roasted in the oven alongside chicken.

If you’d like to prolong the season a bit, today’s recipes will help.

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When you have a cache of ripe white peaches, it is easy to make refreshing peach bellinis. This recipe is adapted from one shared at drycreekpeach.com. It also freezes well; instead of adding sparkling wine to the purée, simply pack it into a freezer bag and freeze it for up to a year.

Dry Creek Peach Bellini
Serves 6 to 8

2 large ripe white peaches, preferably Arctic Gem variety, halved and pitted
1/4 cup lemon juice
1/2 cup cold water
1-2 teaspoons sugar, to taste
1 bottle (750ml) dry sparkling wine, well chilled

Put the peaches, lemon juice and water into the work bowl of a blender or food processor and pulse several times, until the ingredients form a smooth puree. Taste and if it seems a bit flat, add a teaspoon or two of the sugar and pulse again.

Set a large strainer over a chilled glass pitcher and strain the purée, stirring with a wooden spoon to press through as much of the purée as possible. Pour the sparkling wine into the puree, stir and serve right away in chilled Champagne flutes.

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This recipe calls for much less sugar than most commercial chutneys and most recipes. It also lacks many of the spices found in most chutneys. Allowing the fruit and other ingredients to rest together at room temperature allows for a more gentle extraction of flavors, which in turn helps the fruit retain center stage. Make it when you have extraordinary fruit and want its flavor to dominate. To retain the most delicate elements of flavor, do not process the chutney. The chutney is delicious with any curry, with roasted chicken and spooned over cheese for a summery appetizer. Burrata works especially well.

White Peach Chutney
Makes about 6 pints

10 pounds ripe white peaches peeled, pitted and sliced (see Note below)
3/4 cups white wine or Champagne vinegar
2 pounds sugar
2 teaspoons kosher salt
1 small garlic bulb, cloves separated and peeled
3-4 serranos, stems removed, sliced into very thin rounds
1 1/2 ounces fresh ginger, peeled and grated
3-4 cardamom pods
1 teaspoon black peppercorns
1/2 teaspoon white peppercorns
1 teaspoon coriander seed

Put the sliced peaches into a large heavy pot, add the vinegar, sugar and salt, and stir. Cover with a tea towel and let sit 2 to 3 hours.

Put the garlic through a food processor fitted with the grating blade, and stir the grated garlic into the peach mixture along with the serranos and ginger. Put the spices into a spice bag or tie in a piece of cheesecloth, add to the peach mixture, cover and let sit another 2 to 3 hours.

Set the pot over medium-low heat and slowly bring to a simmer. Simmer gently for about an hour, until the peaches are completely tender but not fully broken down. Stir occasionally. Remove from the heat and let cool to room temperature.

Use a ladle to transfer the liquid from the chutney into a small heavy saucepan. Remove the spice bag, add it to the liquid, bring to a boil over medium heat, and simmer until very thick and syrupy, about 30 minutes.

Discard the spice bag and stir the reduced liquid back into the cooked peaches.

Ladle the chutney into sterilized pint jars and process in a water bath for 20 minutes. Cool, check seals and store in a cool pantry for up to 1 year. Refrigerate after opening.

Alternately, ladle the chutney into clean glass jars, store in the refrigerator and use within 4 to 6 weeks.

Note: Ripe peaches are easy to peel with your fingers or a small, sharp knife. The skin should simply slip off. Do not drop the peaches into boiling water to peel them. If you have trouble peeling your peaches, it is likely because they are not quite ripe enough.

Michele Anna Jordan is author of the new “Good Cook’s” series. Email her at michele@micheleannajordan.com and visit her blog at pantry.blogs.pressdemocrat.com.

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