Peachy Keen

The Kitchen

    [AB is reading a book with a brown paper bag cover on it entitled "AB James and the Giant Peach"] Peaches have always been my favorite fruit. When I was a kid, I used to dream about being James in "James and the Giant Peach", only in my version of the story, inside the peach pit, we had a complete galley at our disposal.

Giant Peach Animation

GUESTS: Animated AB
              Animated Grasshopper
              Animated Centipede
              Animated Spider

AAB: I can't believe it. For once in my life, I have all the ripe peach I could ever want. And it's just perfect! The texture is dead on and the sweetness is sublimely balanced with the acidity.
I say, the pie is lovely.
The ice cream isn't bad, either.
AS: While I do find the Peach Melba quite delectable, it's nowhere near as juicy as a nice, fat, grasshopper.
AGH: Ahhhhhhhh.
I'm kidding. Hah hah hah hah hah. Or am I?

    Although the tight quarters make for some interesting living, we're happy. Until, of course, the peach begins to rot.

AAB: I can't cook with this. It's rotten, and runny, and smelly! Whatever will we do?
AS: I shall be forced to eat the grasshopper.
AGH: Oh bother.
AAB: You don't dare!
AS: Fine. Then I'll eat you.
AAB: Ahhh! [crunching sounds heard]

    Of course, we'd all forgotten that we were in the ocean. So when the peach was gone, there was nothing between us and the ravenous sharks.

The Kitchen

    Alas, that's the way it is with peaches. Every summer, fans such as myself, starved of peaches through three-quarters of the year, buy up bushels, only to end up being eaten by sharks. Of course, if you truly understand this delicious drupe, you can arm yourself with a wide array of applications, aimed at preventing peaches from going bad, and you, from becoming literary ...

["Good Eats" theme plays]

Jaemor Farms, Alto, GA – 10:15am

    You know, despite the fact that peaches didn't really take root in the United States until the abolition of slavery made growing cotton a bit of a difficult proposition, now the United States grows a quarter of the world peach crop. That's about three billion pounds of these guys a year. Which is not bad, when you consider the fact that they're not even from this side of the planet.


GUEST: Chinaman (AB)

    A native of China, peaches have been cultivated since at least 2000 B.C. But those early peaches were small, hard, and very pitty. Not nearly as luxurious as the peaches of today. But that didn't stop the Chinese from treasuring them not only as cuisine, but as Taoist symbols of longevity. From here, the peach traveled ...


GUEST: Persian (AB)

... to Persia, where Alexander the Great and other Westerners first encountered the fruit, which is probably why the peaches' scientific name is Persicum mala [sic, if he meant the singular then it should be malum], "Persian apple" From Persia, it was just a quick little jaunt to Greece, and then to ...


GUEST: Roman (AB)

... Rome, where the peach was considered a high delicacy, and often went for four, or even five dollars a piece ... and that's in today's dollars, okay? A lot of dinarii. Now, besides eating them, the Romans did a lot for the peach. They spread it all over Europe, so that later, in the 16th century ...


GUEST: Christopher Columbus (AB)

... English, French, and Spanish explorers, like Christopher Columbus could sail it westward, towards the dark, rich, fertile earth of ...

American South

GUEST: Confederate Soldier (AB)

... the American south. By the time the Civil War broke out, states like Georgia and South Carolina were already well-established peach growers. Now as a curious little piece of trivia, during the Civil War many peach orchards, such as this one, served as backdrops for some very bloody battles, such as Shiloh, and Gettysburg [an explosion is heard] Gracious! [wagon wheel rolls by] Oh bother.

Production of peaches is second only to apples in the United States.

Jaemor Farm Market, Alto, GA – 11:00am

    If you only shop at Ye Olde Megamart, you're probably not hip to the fact that there are over 2,000 varieties of peaches. Now this farm stand may not have all 2,000, but they do have a dozen or so—certainly enough to properly represent the peachy spectrum.
    Now, I'm a classification guy, okay? Classification makes the world an easier place to live. But it's hard to classify a fruit that is as diverse as peaches. Luckily, Planet Peach can be divided into two. There are clingstone peaches, whose flesh clings to the pit, or stone, like bad hair and money on Donald Trump. Tasty though they may be, most clingstones end up being frozen, canned, puréed, or otherwise mangled for commercial uses. "Out-of-hand" peaches are typically freestone peaches meaning that the flesh gladly gives up the pit or stone inside.

    Peaches can also be classified by color. For instance, Muir, Lovell, and the original Georgia peach, Elbertas, all have yellow flesh, a trait developed in the United States in the 19th century. The color comes from an abundance of carotenoid pigments, including beta-carotene, which we all like.


    There are also white peaches. White peaches have a lower acid content which may make them taste a little less peachy, but also makes them insanely sweet. Some common varieties include the Mountain Rose, Alexander, Old Mixon, and Summer Snow.

-Mountain Rose
-Old Mixon
-Summer Snow

    Now most peaches are at their peak somewhere between June and September, but once plucked from the tree, the sugar content is locked in and the clock begins to tick. Even with modern shipping techniques, fresh peaches will not last more than ten days to two weeks post-harvest, which explains why it's best to pick your peaches as close to the tree as possible. Now this doesn't mean that you can't get decent peaches in, you know, Utah.* But odds are, those peaches are going to look better than they taste, and that's a shame.

The Kitchen

    Behold, the physical incarnation of a perfect summer day. Notice the shoulders are round and full, evidence of sufficient time on the tree. The background color is yellow-orange, no green. This specimen displays considerable blush which has nothing to do with ripeness. It's just proof that the fruit has spent a good bit of time in direct sunlight, except, of course, here [the area around the stem], where it was shaded by the stem itself. Now the suture is pronounced, and the cheeks are plump and barely yielding. [in a Southern accent] Why I tell you, it's almost too much for a good Southern boy to bear.
    Now, if this specimen wasn't perfect, I would park it and its sisters in a paper bag at room temperature for a few days to soften. Notice, I did not say "ripen". That is because "ripen" suggests an increase in sugar development and that is impossible once this device leaves the tree. Time, however, can concentrate flavor components, and allow the flesh to soften, and become more juicy. Now, the only way to keep this peach from marching right past ripeness, to, well, you know, sharks, is to stop the clock, or at least slow it down.

California, South Carolina and Georgia are
the three largest peach-producing states.

The Kitchen

GUEST: Lady of the Refrigerator

    Cold will slow down the enzymatic action that dissolves pectins in the fruit and that will keep these from getting too soft. Low temperatures also slow the spread of aromatic compounds in the mouth, so always bring peaches to room temperature before devouring. [goes to close the fridge door]

LOTR: Hey. Wait a minute, buster.
AB: [a little bashfull] Oh, it's you.
LOTR: Is that any way to speak to the Countess of Cold?
AB: I, I guess not, um, Miss Refrigerator Lady, Ma'am.
LOTR: How dare you put peaches in here without even mentioning their ability to defy the ravages of time.
AB: Do tell, oh Priestess of Preservation.
LOTR: Have you ever heard of photoaging?
AB: Oh, yeah. That's what makes old snapshots stick together in the family picture drawer. Ha ha ha ha ...
LOTR: [sarcastically] Oh, you're so clever [deliberately knocks over a container inside the refrigerator].
AB: Oh, hey!
LOTR: Photoaging is what the sun's rays do to the skin, and this nasty process is accelerated by horrible things called free radicals in the skin cells. Now peaches and nectarines contain beautiful compounds called antioxidants—more specifically, phenols—that help to block this process. That's why I eat at least three peaches a day, to maintain my youthful and milky complexion.
AB: Really. Wow, and here all along I thought you were just stealing my milk. Ha ha ha.
LOTR: There you go, being clever again. [knocks another container over]
AB: Hey. Unghhh. That's my lunch, lady. You're ...  [picks up the container, only to see that Lady of the Refrigerator has disappeared]

    Where does she go anyway?
    I have always felt that combining of cake and fruit to be powerful magic, especially when the elements in question are kept subtly segregated. A good example of this approach: single-serving peach upside-down cake, which just might be my favorite dessert of all time. I know it's my favorite breakfast. Let's bake, shall we?

    First, hot box [oven] to 350 degrees.

350 Degrees

    Now divide two tablespoons of unsalted butter evenly between four six-ounce ramekins. Yes, that's half a tablespoon per ramekin. Next, evenly divide a quarter of a cup of light brown sugar among the vessels. And by the way, that would be one tablespoon per vessel.

2 Tbs. Unsalted Butter
1/4 Cup Light Brown Sugar

    Now as to the fruit, you will need two medium peaches, each peeled and cut into 12 to 14 slices. Although a vegetable peeler would work on firm fruit, if you have very ripe peaches or a lot of any kind of peaches, you will want to employ the blanch.

BLANCHE: [in a Southern Belle accent] Whoev-ah you ah-re, Ah-ve always depended upon the kahndness of strangers.
AB: Actually, I meant to bring a pot of water to a boil. Carefully place the peaches inside for 30 seconds, then evacuate to an ice water bath for another 30 seconds, and just wiping the skin off with a paper towel.
BLANCHE: M-ah, you have an impressive judicial air.
AB: Alright, thanks for the literature lesson, lady. We're making a cooking show here, okay?

    Sorry. Now deposit the peach pieces on top of the sugar, and then sprinkle each with finely chopped, crystallized ginger. You're going to need about an ounce of that total, and that would be three tablespoons, please.

2 Medium Peaches, Peeled
    & Sliced
1 Ounce Crystallized Ginger,
    Finely Chopped

    Now we begin the batter. And the batter begins with the dry team. And the dry team begins with flour; 2.5 ounces all-purpose flour, by weight, goes into the bowl. Then, of course, we have the leavening, beginning with baking powder, a teaspoon will do nicely. Baking soda, an eighth of a teaspoon will do very well. And kosher salt, also an eighth of a teaspoon. Whisk to combine.

2.5 Ounces All-Purpose Flour
1 tsp. Baking Powder
1/8 tsp. Baking Soda
1/8 tsp. Kosher Salt

    In a separate bowl, we meld the wet team, beginning with half a cup of buttermilk, at room temperature if you please, one-third of a cup of sugar, one tablespoon of melted, non-salted butter, and one-half teaspoon, just a wee shot, of vanilla extract.

1/2 Cup Buttermilk, Room
1/3 Cup Sugar
1 Tbs. Unsalted Butter,
1/2 tsp. Vanilla Extract

    Now while I'm whisking this together, ponder this: what mixing method are we employing here? Just take a moment. Think about it.

A. Biscuit Method
B. Muffin Method
C. Creaming Method
D. Method Acting

    Very good. It is the muffin method. First, we mix all of the dry team together, then we mix all the wet team together, separate bowls, and then we marry them as quickly as possible.

B. Muffin Method

    So, liquid goes on top of dry, and I think it's going to take about, eh, 10.2 stirs. 1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6, 7, 8, 9, 10. Yes, it's lumpy, but I don't care. Walk away. Just, just walk away. No more stirring or it'll get all tough and you won't like it then.

1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6, 7, 8, 9, 10

    So deposit the batter evenly on top of the fruit, thusly. Remember, no stirring is necessary. The batter will percolate gently down into the fruit.
    Now you could bake these directly on your oven racks, but it could get a little messy. So I suggest a half-sheet pan. Slide your newly born cakes right into the middle of the oven. Now we're looking for a final internal temperature here of 190 degrees. That's going to take 20 to 25 minutes, give or take a second or two. Of course, it'll help if I close the door.

Dried peaches have up to three times as much vitamin A as fresh peaches.

The Kitchen

    Look perfect. We've got nice browning. Let's check the temperature. 188. It'll coast the rest of the way. Now the goal is to get these out and let them cool for about five minutes. Then turn them out by simply taking a paring knife, running around the outside just to make sure that the syrup releases nicely. There we go. And grab yourself a plate and out it'll come. Now this is delicious just as it is. But if you hit it with a little whipped cream or perhaps some ice cream, it gets even better. And did I mention the fact that they're just as good at room temperature as they are hot. And oh, I told you about the whole breakfast thing, right? Good.

Opera House

GUEST: Opera Patrons
            Nellie Melba

    [AB is in a balcony box, looking bored] Oh boy, the opera. You know, nothing says "class" quite like a good old-fashioned lung-stretcher.

    You know, at the turn of the 20th century, the most famous soprano hailed not from New Jersey, but Australia. Behold, Dame Nellie Melba, diva of the first order. She was famous for three things: her angelic voice, her attention-grabbing persona, and her obsessive adoration of peaches. Now to honor one of Nellie's 1893 performances in Paris, chef Georges-Auguste Escoffier, of the Savoy Hotel, no less, designed this dessert that combined ice cream, raspberry sauce, and poached peaches that would eventually become known as "Peach Melba".

[The Real Dame Nellie Melba]

NM: Yoo hoo. G'day. Did I hear someone mention peaches? Oh, I just love peaches. They're so sweet [takes a bite out of one], so succulent, so sensual, don't you think?
AB: I do think they're cute, yeah, um ...
NM: [overtly flirtatious at this point] Like you!
AB:  ... and, of course, in a lot of countries, peaches are sort of these metaphors for things, ehm, erotic.
NM: Oh, do tell.
AB: Um, easy there, big girl. Um, Japan, um, China, peach blossoms are symbols of virginity ...
NM: [giggles]
AB:  ... and, and, and, and then of course, also, in Japan, peaches are considered very useful in the exorcising of demons.
NM: Exorcising demons? Oh, now that's the only exercise I get. Hah hah hah hah. But I do love to eat a peach. Would you care to join me after the show for a bushel?
AB: A bushel? Um, sure. Gee, I'll just have a little ...  [takes Ms. Melba's peach, and drops it from the balcony, as if accidentally]  Oops. Oh, I'm sorry.
NM: Oh, my peach! [jumps off the balcony and screams]
AB: [observing the crash] I think that's going to leave a mark.

Backyard Patio

    Traditionally, the peaches in Peach Melba would always be poached in a syrup, such as this one, composed of 3/4 of a cup each water and sugar, a tablespoon of lemon juice, and the guts of one vanilla bean.

3/4 Cup Sugar
3/4 Cup Water
1 Tbs. Freshly Squeeze
    Lemon Juice
Seeds From 1 Vanilla Bean

    This is all fine and good. But I do believe that we can up the flavor ante by grilling our peaches first. Here we have four large peaches which have been peeled, split, and pitted, and we're roasting those for about four minutes a side over high heat. About 500 degrees in here. We're going to do that with the shields down. Now while all this works, we can compose a sauce.

4 Large Peaches Peeled,
    Pitted & Cut in Half

    And of course, since we're talking about Peach Melba, we're talking about a raspberry sauce. So break out your food processor and dump in eight ounces of raspberry. I find that frozen purée a little better. A tablespoon each of freshly squeezed lemon juice and sugar. Bolt on the lid and take her for a spin. In about 30 seconds, you'll have yourself a nice creamy purée.

8 Ounces Frozen Raspberries,
1 Tbs. Freshly Squeezed
    Lemon Juice +
1 Tbs. Sugard

    But it is still full of seeds and the seeds have got to go. So pour that through a sieve. And you're going to have to push the sauce through with a spoon or a spatula. If you skip this step, you'll have seeds in the sauce, and you'll have to get out the floss and the toothpicks and it'll be ugly. This, on the other hand, looks great.
    When your syrup has been at a good hard boil for about one to two minutes, turn off the heat and evacuate your newly cooked peaches to a rectangular baking dish. They're nice and soft but they still have a good bit of their structure intact. Now once you've got those down, pour the syrup right on top of them. I want this to soak for probably about five minutes, and just cover it with foil to keep it warm, and let them do, what they're going to do.
    To serve, simply lay out a few of your peaches, dole on a bit of ice cream, perhaps, maybe a sprig of mint would be nice, and of course, lots and lots of the raspberry sauce. Ahh. Next step is my favorite step. Hah hah hah hah ...

NM: G'day, my little wallaby. Oh, oh, this looks so good, I think I could sing!
AB: [retreats, puts on headphones, and shields his head with a lid, while Nellie Melba throws a peach at him]

A nectarine is not a hybrid, but rather a variety
of peach with firmer flesh and smooth skin.

The Kitchen

    When the days grow short, and the winds of Thor are blowing cold, a nice jar of home-preserved peaches sure can crack old Jack Frost's steely grasp. The problem is, even if you've got time for canning, the cooking required for the process saps peaches of their fresh flavor and flattens their meaty texture to a pulp. Bummer.

    Ironically, all this summer goodness can easily be preserved by the proper application of the very element we're trying to eliminate. That's right, cold. But, proper prep is a prerequisite for success. Let's say that you had a pound and a half of ripe peaches, peeled and cut into chunks. Now freezing these as is would be a bad idea. Why? Come here.

1 1/2 Pounds Peaches,
    Peeled & Diced

    I realize that if you are a fan of this program, you've probably seen this demo at least a dozen times. But hey, some things bear repeating. Let us imagine for a moment that this [holds up a plastic bag filled with water] is a pulp cell inside your peach. And let us imagine also that this [holds up a ice pick] is an ice crystal. When the two come together, it looks something like this. [stabs at the bag, making holes for the water to leak out] Are we clear? Good. Now, what are we going to do about it?
    The substance that we call sugar is actually sucrose, a disaccharide, or double sugar. Now sucrose is world-famous for being hygroscopic, meaning that it loves to grab hold of water and hold it at the molecular level. By adding some sucrose to our peaches, some of the moisture will be pulled out of the peaches and will create a syrup with the sucrose. Now what's groovy about that is that when the syrup freezes, the sucrose will hold onto some of the water, and that will prevent the ice crystals from getting so big that they poke holes in all the cells, and make us lose all our moisture when the peaches thaw. Got it? Good.

    For a pound and a half of peaches, I would think 3/4 of a cup of sugar would be sufficient ... wait a second. Neither sucrose nor freezing cold will prevent these peaches from turning brown with time. For that, we'll need an acid. Now since we're talking about stopping an oxidative process, why not use an antioxidant. That's right. Most of us have a little ascorbic acid, good old vitamin C. And I'd say that's about 500 milligrams should do the trick. That's half of one of these guys [breaks a large tablet in half]. Now just crush that between a couple of spoons, dissolve in three tablespoons of water, and mix into the peaches before you add the sugar. They'll never see brown again.

3/4 Cup Sugar

500 mg Ascorbic Acid
    dissolved in 3 Tbs. Of

    There. Let these sit for 15 minutes, so that a good, thick syrup forms. Then you may transfer them to the containment vessel of your choice. Mine: zip-top freezer bags.
    I like to freeze my peaches on a flat surface before filing them away for long-term storage. It makes them a little bit easier to deal with. Now these are good for 1,001 different purposes. But if you want to cook with them, you can always count on holding back about a third of the total sugar in any given recipe. Or you can count them as you would an equal amount of peaches canned in a heavy syrup.
    Well, I think that's enough to keep the sharks of my childhood at bay for at least a couple of months. See you next time, on "Good Eats".

Outtake: Opera House

NM: But I just love to eat a peach. Would you care to join me in a bushel after the show?
AB: 'In' a bushel, or 'for' a bushel? Doesn't matter, off you go [takes the peach, and drops it from the balcony]
NM: [jumps off after the peach] Ahhhh.

*Utah is 16th in the nation in peach crops.

Transcribed by Michael Roberts
Proofread by Michael Menninger

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Last Edited on 08/27/2010