In our area, no fruit generates more buzz than the fuzzy peach. While few depend on peaches for their livelihood, many depend on them for their well-being.
True peach aficionados — like Anniston Star columnist George Smith — follow peach country weather with the zeal of James Spann, ever looking for adverse conditions like late frosts, excessive rains or biblical apocalypses that might deny fellow peach lovers the first taste of Alabama’s favorite fruit, Prunus persicus (from the Latin for “Persian apple,” but better known as “peach”).
The peach as we know it today likely originated in China, where historical accounts substantiate its existence as early as the third millennium. From China, it made its way to the Middle East, and from the Middle East to Europe, from Europe to South America, and then to the New World via Spanish missionaries.
Peach-growing in Alabama dates to the mid-19th century, but our treasured Chilton County peach industry came into being in the 1950s. Today, there are some 3,500 acres under cultivation, growing some 35 different varieties of peaches.
I grew up in a family of peach-lovers. My late father, a lifetime early riser, was always among the first to greet the peach purveyor, bringing home baskets of Elbertas, Georgia Belles and June Golds with accompanying narrative about which were yellow flesh, white flesh, freestone or clingstone.
Peaches basically divide into two categories: “freestone,” the type in which the flesh does not cling to the seed, and “clingstone,” in which the flesh clings to the seed and has to be cut away for consumption.
Though peaches are grown in other Alabama counties, it is the Chilton County peach that has attained cult status. However, it must be said that peach varietals grown in Chilton County are the same varietals grown in other areas of the country and particularly in the South.
There are many theories regarding what makes Chilton County peaches so special. As a wine columnist, I must fall back on a word often used when writing about wine. It is terroir that makes these peaches unique. Terroir is a French word for which there is no English equivalent, meaning the all-encompassing site characteristics that make these peaches special.
There are many ways to savor the uniqueness of these site-specific peaches. Perhaps the best way is au naturelle. Just give the peach a gentle wash and then devour it while standing at the kitchen sink to catch the juice running over one’s chin or elbow.
But Southern cooks own a plethora of vintage recipes for making peachy delights. Consider the following:
Kentucky Peach Bread
This recipe ran in the Star 18 years ago in an article by staff writer Elizabeth Bluemink. I found it among my late mother’s recipe clippings. I don’t know why it is called Kentucky Peach Bread. It could just as easily be called Chilton County Peach Bread.
- 3 cups sliced fresh peaches
- 6 tablespoons sugar
- 2 cups all-purpose flour
- 1 teaspoon baking powder
- 1 teaspoon baking soda
- ¼ teaspoon salt
- 1 teaspoon ground cinnamon
- ¼ teaspoon freshly grated nutmeg
- 1½ cups sugar
- ½ cup unsalted butter, at room temperature
- 2 eggs
- 1 ½ teaspoons vanilla extract
- 1 cup chopped walnuts
Puree peaches with 6 tablespoons of sugar in a food processor and set aside. Combine flour, baking powder, soda, salt, cinnamon and nutmeg. In a separate bowl, cream sugar and butter. Add eggs and mix well. Add puree and vanilla, then stir in dry ingredients, adding nuts last. Do not overmix.
Fill greased and floured loaf pan or pans no more than ¾ full. Bake at 350 degrees for 35 to 40 minutes, or until cake tester comes out clean.
Mother’s Homemade Peach Ice Cream
Calories don’t count in this because there are infinitely many.
- 2 cups pureed peaches
- 2 cups sugar
- 2 cups heavy cream
- 2 cups whole milk
- 2 cups half-and-half
- 1 tablespoon vanilla
- ¼ teaspoon almond flavoring
Puree peaches with sugar in food processor until almost liquid with no large chunks left.
Combine peach puree and remaining ingredients, stirring until sugar is dissolved.
Place mixture in ice cream freezer and freeze according to freezer instructions. This makes approximately 2 quarts of ice cream.
Joyce’s Fresh Peach Pinwheel Cobbler
From my friend Joyce.
For sugar syrup:
- 2 cups sugar
- 2 cups water
- ¼ teaspoon cardamom
- ¼ teaspoon ginger
- ¼ teaspoon cinnamon
- 1 teaspoon vanilla
- ½ teaspoon lemon juice
Combine sugar, water and spices in a saucepan. Cook over high heat, stirring constantly, until sugar is dissolved. Remove from heat and stir in vanilla and lemon juice. Allow to cool while making pastry.
For the pastry:
- 2 sticks of butter (one for pastry and one for melting in baking dish)
- 2 cups self-rising flour
- ½ cup whole milk (plus additional tablespoons if needed to bring pastry together)
- 2 cups peaches, sliced and cubed to approximately ½ inch square.
Preheat oven to 300 degrees. Melt one stick of butter in the oven in a 13x9-inch baking pan.
Combine second stick of butter with flour, using either a pastry blender or a food processor, until mixture resembles coarse meal. Add milk, stirring until dry ingredients are moistened and dough comes together
Turn dough onto a floured sheet of parchment paper. Roll or shape dough into approximately a 12x9-inch rectangle. Spread peaches over dough and roll up from the longer side into a log shape, jelly roll fashion.
Cut log into approximately 12 circles. Place circles evenly into melted butter in baking dish.
Pour all of sugar syrup around slices. Don’t panic if in the beginning it appears you have too much syrup. Miraculously it is absorbed by the pastry as it bakes
Bake at 300 degrees for 55 to 60 minutes or until golden brown.
Pat Kettles writes about wine and spirits every other Wednesday. Contact her at email@example.com.