We all know that peaches are amazing. That aroma, that colour, that flavour, that…juice that runs down your arms and makes everything sticky (the lesser quality of the peach, which requires a sink for proper enjoyment.)
Something that you may not know is one of my favourite books: On Food and Cooking by Harold McGee. It’s a veritable encyclopedia about the natural history and biology of everything from the chemistry of egg flavour, to what exactly a balsamic is, to what makes a smooth yogurt when I make it on my stovetop.
It is also the inspiration for this blog.
Peach flavour is due to lactones which is also responsible for the flavour of coconuts. Some varieties also contain clove-like eugenol. I can’t describe to you what a lactone or eugenol is, as I am not a chemist, so lets move on. The pits, too have a distinct flavour of almonds. You may have run across a recipe for homemade alcohol preserves that calls for using the pit – this is because the seeds of stone fruits contain an enzyme that lends an almond flavour. This makes sense when you learn that the almond and the peach are in the same genus Prunus, along with their tasty brethren plums, cherries and apricots.
Peaches have a long history in Ontario, many varieties having been developed here which is a legacy that continues today. However their history runs much deeper than the Commonwealth. The word “peach” comes from the word “persica” or Persia, which points to the journey this succulent fruit took from China through to the Mediterranean around 300 BCE.
The main types of peaches are white-fleshed and yellow-fleshed, with a firm or melting texture, attached to the pit (clingstone) or easily detached (freestone). In Ontario, semi-freestone are available from the end of July to mid-August, and freestone from mid-August to the end of September. The firm clingstone, not surprisingly, was bred mainly for canning and shipping as they are less likely to end up as mush on the bottom of the shipping container.
One of the saddest things is a mealy peach. This unfortunate phenomenon is a result of improperly stored fruit, which is often why you get mealy peaches in supermarkets. The “cement” between cells weakens, so that when we chew it, we end up with lots of tiny separate cells in our mouths. But weak cells aren’t always such a bad thing. The “melting” characteristic of peaches mentioned earlier is a result of such extremely weak cells that the walls have practically disintegrated and ooze juicy goodness under the slightest pressure.
I hope you enjoyed this brief nerdy insight into peaches. I’ll leave you with another favourite of mine: the blog Canelle et Vanille and her recipe for Peach Crème Caramel.
- Emma Berrigan, Communications Assistant