How to pick perfect peaches from Sonoma County farmers' markets
What does a summer day taste like?
It tastes like a blushing tree-ripened peach, pulled warm from its branch, inviting bites of sumptuous flesh running with sweet juice.
The hard, juiceless, early cling peaches are over. Now, in July, come the masterpieces, or should we say master peaches: Red Havens and O’Henrys, freestone marvels of detectability.
You’ll find local peaches at the Community Markets in Santa Rosa and Sebastopol, and for that just-picked flavor, it’s hard to beat the fruit from Dry Creek Peach and Produce. They have a farm stand at their orchard at 2179 Yoakum Bridge Road in Healdsburg, and they sell their California Certified Organic Farmers’ peaches at the Healdsburg farmers’ market. For times and dates, call them at 707-433-8121. You’ll also find excellent peaches at our other farmers’ markets in this region, as well as at Oliver’s locations.
Don’t miss the peak of peach season, for it’s easy enough to have high summer at your fingertips all year around. Here’s how:
You’ll need to set a large pot of water to boil on the stove and have a sink full of ice water. Get a jar of organic honey, a dozen lemons for juicing, a large ladle, a slotted spoon, pint-sized freezer bags, twist ties, and your largest bowl.
Pour a gallon of filtered water in the bowl. Pour in a cup of honey and a cup of fresh-squeezed lemon juice, then stir until the honey is completely dissolved. Place a half dozen peaches in the boiling water for one minute, then take them out with a slotted spoon and place them in the ice water. This blanching treatment loosens their skins, which you should then remove. Take a skinned peach to the big bowl, and holding the peach in the palm of one hand, use the knife in the other hand to make half-inch wide slices, which drop into the syrupy water, where the lemon juice prevents them from oxidizing and turning brown.
Hold a freezer bag open with one hand and ladle in a dessert’s worth of peach slices with some liquid. Set the bag on the table and squeeze the neck of the bag to exclude air, until the peach slices are entirely covered by liquid. Then twist-tie the bag shut securely. I don’t trust the closure on the freezer bags that have a sliding closure. When all the bags of that batch are finished, put them in the freezer sitting on a baking sheet. If they’re lumped on top of each other, they’ll be the devil to pull apart after they’re frozen.
On a cold fall or winter night, take a rock-hard bag of peaches from the freezer and place it in a bowl of very warm tap water while making dinner. By dessert time, all the peaches will be thawed but still cold. They’ll taste fabulously summery in the dead of winter. Do more batches if you have the time and the peaches.
My all-time favorite thing to do with peaches is to make my all-time favorite dessert: peach Melba. Auguste Escoffier himself invented this dessert in 1893 to honor Dame Nellie Melba, the famous Australian opera singer. Her real name was Helen Porter Mitchell, but she took Melba as her stage name (it’s a shortened version of Melbourne, her hometown) and thank goodness she did. Peach Mitchell doesn’t have nearly the romance.