Of all the flavors associated with summertime, few are as beautiful as that of a ripe, perfect peach. Sweet, fragrant, juicy peaches are absolute treasures at this time of year, and most grocery stores now have bushels of them near their entrances so the fruits’ scent will entice you over as soon as you set foot through the door.
While many people buy carloads of peaches in order to preserve them for the winter—whether it’s by canning them in syrup or baking them into pies and cobblers—others prefer to grab as many as possible just to enjoy in their raw, unaltered beauty, and with good cause! There’s really no taste like that of a summer-fresh peach, and right now is the ideal time to enjoy them.
Okanagan (Canada) Peaches
When we think of peaches, Canada rarely comes to mind as a place where these delicate-fleshed fruits will thrive. Peaches are believed to have originated in China, and traders helped to spread them around throughout India and the Middle East before they made their way to Europe, and then North America. Many peach varieties thrive in the warm, southern USA states like Georgia (it’s the state’s official fruit!), South Carolina, and California, but a surprising number of peaches are actually cultivated in the balmy Okanagan valley in southern British Columbia, Canada. In fact, the Okanagan is so renowned for its stone fruits that there’s actually a town called Peachland, where the fruits have been cultivated since the 1890s.
If the thought of Canadian peaches intrigues you, there are a few different varieties that you can look for at your grocery store: Suncrest, Fairhaven, and Redhaven are a few to look out for, while O’Henry and Raritan Rose are a bit harder to find, but well worth the effort to do so. You’ll likely have an easier time finding Okanagan varieties if you’re located within Canada or the northwest coast in the USA, but talk to your grocer or the suppliers at your local farmer’s market: you may be surprised to discover that the peaches being offered are from BC.
So, what are their health benefits?
Aside from being delicious, peaches are also startlingly good for you. They’re very high in fiber, which is as essential for reducing cholesterol levels as it is for maintaining a healthy digestive system. Peaches are surprisingly good sources of vitamin A, which keeps all of our organs working properly and is vital for reproduction, and also helps us to maintain our vision.
Although they’re not at high in antioxidants as blueberries or goji berries, they do have a fairly high level at 1,826 per cup of fruit. These antioxidants are essential for a strong, healthy immune systems: they help to reduce inflammation and can also help to deter cancer and other chronic health issues, and also do wonders for maintaining healthy skin.
In addition to helping to slow skin’s aging process, the zinc in peaches is known to boost testosterone levels in men. Peaches’ potassium content assists with nervous system function and regulates heart rate, while its calcium and iron levels help with bone maintenance and hemoglobin production in red blood cells, respectively.
These fruits even help reduce obesity: their high fiber content isn’t just great for lowering cholesterol—it also helps to make people feel full longer, thus curbing appetite. The fact that peaches also have beneficial effects on digestive issues such as IBS, ulcers, and gastritis makes them a powerhouse as far as holistic healing is concerned.
It’s rather wonderful to consider that every bite you take out of one of these fruits also nourishes and heals your entire body on so many levels, isn’t it?
One thing to keep in mind is that peaches regularly make their way onto the “dirty dozen” list of pesticide-contaminated produce. If you’re aiming to add more peaches into your diet for their numerous health benefits, it’s best to try to buy organic fruit whenever possible. Although washing fruit thoroughly can eliminate a lot of pesticide residue, peach skin is very permeable, so chemicals can seep through their exterior fuzz and into the flesh very easily.
How to choose them
If you’re grocery shopping and in search of a few perfect peaches, there are a few different techniques to help you choose those that are at their peak:
#1 – Smell them.
This might make you feel a bit weird, but if you’re okay with looking a little awkward at the supermarket, it’s one of the best ways to help you select your fruit. You know that little hollow at the top of the peach where the stem used to be? Smell that. If there’s a fairly noticeable sweet, floral fragrance, then your peach is well on its way to ideal ripeness. If it’s barely discernable, it was picked too early and still has a way to go before it’ll taste right. As a lovely elderly lady at a shop once told me: “the way a peach smells will tell you how it’s going to taste”.
#2 –Squeeze them gently!
The “shoulders” of the fruit (the curved part around where the stem was) are a great indicator of ripeness. Don’t squeeze that area too hard, but just press in very gently and see whether the flesh gives a little or not. If it does, pop that beauty into your cart. If it’s really firm, set it aside – it’s not ready yet. In terms of squish-ability, you can use your own face as a pressure reference: if you squeeze a peach and it has the same give as the tip of your nose, it’s perfect.
*Note: If you come across a bunch of squishy peaches that smell great but are too soft to eat without them falling apart all over you, it’s great idea to pick them up anyway. You can turn them into jam or jelly and make sure none of that juicy sweetness goes to waste.
#3 -Do comparative weighing.
Did you know that a ripe fruit will weigh slightly more than an unripe one? Select a few peaches of the same approximate size, and weigh them—the heaviest one will be the ripest, thanks to water content within the fruit.
If you find a few beautiful peaches that aren’t quite ripe enough yet, don’t despair! Buy them anyway, and pick up a couple of ripe bananas while you’re at it. When you get home, pop the peaches and bananas into a paper bag together, and let them hang out for a few days: the ethylene gas released by the bananas will help your peaches to ripen more quickly.
Keeping them fresh
Now that you have a few perfect peaches (assuming that you’ve managed to refrain from cramming them all in your mouth before you got home), you need to store them. This can be tricky, since peaches are as delicate as …peaches… and can bruise and tear rather easily.
If you’ve picked some peaches that are a little under-ripe, or are quite firm, it’s best to keep them at room temperature for a few days so they can ripen to their full potential. You’ll want to place them stem-side-down on a plate or cutting board, away from direct sunlight, in a room that stays a pretty steady, warm temperature. Of course, the problem with storing fruit in open air during the summer months is that their scrumptious scent usually draws insects, which will attempt to eat your peaches before you get to them.
The way to fend the wee beasties away is to cover the fruits with a protective mesh screen cover. In the same way that people hide in mesh tents to keep from being devoured by mosquitoes, the peaches can rest in safety beneath mini mesh tents, which will keep fruit flies, bees, wasps, and bottle flies away from your treasures.
Once they’re ripe, it’s important to keep them refrigerated to preserve their freshness. Now, when it comes to enjoying your peaches raw, there are two opposing views: some people love to bite into cold, crisp peaches straight from the fridge, while others insist that the peaches be removed from the cold and allowed to warm to room temperature to really enjoy their sweetness. On a hot day, the colder peaches can be incredibly refreshing, but is that preferable to enjoying the fruit when it’s at its best? It’s probably a good idea to try both (several times, if needed) to determine which you prefer.
If you’re going to indulge in a very ripe, room-temperature peach, remember that it’s probably a good idea to do so while leaning over the sink: it’s going to be a gloriously juicy mess, and worth every drip.
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Rick Kaselj, MS