Saturday, July 26, 2008

How to Pick a Jersey Peach

As I mentioned in yesterday's post, I visited the Gloucester County 4H Fair and Peach Festival. This is how a peach festival is related to the shore: when you drive down the Atlantic City Expressway, Route 55 or whatever backroads your family's been taking since before you were born, you're driving through farms. One of my favorite shore travel memories is stopping at roadside stands on the way to the shore (backroads of course). My mom would get fresh blueberries, fresh peaches and fresh sweet corn that she'd cook up that night. One summer, my mom got an entire basket of peaches. They were bigger than my fist and dripped with juice. Imagine my disappointment then, a few months later, biting into a California peach. Yick.

In another branch of my freelance life, I write about sustainable living and food. I'm a regular at the Collingswood Farmer's Market, and during the summer, I rarely go to the supermarket. I try to buy as much as I can there, including breads, meats and cheeses, and this is the perfect time for it. It seems everything's in season. I can't wait for the upcoming Farm to Fork week where local restaurants are doing special menus using local foods (I'm coming to GET you on Monday, Nunzio's!) For more information on that promotion, click here. For more info on Jersey peaches, click here.

Anyway, that's why I was so excited to go to the peach festival. And, of course, I took pictures.

Behold, the Peach Queen:

This is Tara Weeast, the current NJ Peach Queen. She'll pass on her crown tonight at the festival. She's super sweet (bad pun, I know, but she really is a nice young lady).

If you've shopped supermarket peaches, you'll probably see two choices: white and yellow. There's actually hundreds of varieties -- they all come into season at different times. Nectarines are technically peaches, too, just without the fuzz. Here's some varieties:

There's also a peach judging competition:

Tom Budd of the Barnsboro Inn made a lovely salad with peaches as the main event:

It's a simple recipe, but so very good: fresh ripe jersey peaches, mixed field greens, grilled chicken breast, pancetta and/or proscuitto, bleu cheese cumbles, toasted almonds and dressing of blueberry merlot balsamic vinaigrette. Divine! You can get it at the restaurant -- the Barnsboro Inn is part of a group of Jersey restaurants adding peaches into their meals for the month of August.

Then I put on my journalist hat and toured a peach packing facility, which takes peaches from all over and packs and ships them. I'm not even going to try to explain each step, but when they're picked is important to know. A peach ripens on the branch. After it's taken all its sugars from the tree, it can still sit on the vine and get really ripe and squishy. That's not always good for packing. So when the color's good and showing that the peach has taken all the sugar it's going to take (being red doesn't mean it's ripe -- the background color should be golden yellow and now green), it's picked and send for packing. It's a little firmer at this point, which makes it easier to pack. From picking to store takes about three days -- by then, when they show up in the market, they're ready to eat.

Here's some pictures of the packing facility:

It had this whole Reading Rainbow vibe to it -- very cool to go behind the scenes.

These are the peaches in my kitchen, though they didn't come from the packing plant but from a farmer who'd picked them that day -- the best way to get them if you can.

Lots you can do with peaches. I'm baking a fun dessert today (more below). There's peach bread, peach tart, peach preserves, peach cider and peach wine. Everything's at the festival except for the wine -- I picked that up at Heritage Station on the way home.
But the fair wasn't all about peaches. There's farm animals, too.



Someone get Cute Overload on the phone:

Insert Ryan Howard joke here:

A three-year-old boy tried to sell me this mini horse. I don't think my dog would approve:

It was a fun day in the (not too hot) sun. The farmers say that peach season should run through mid-September this year -- it's been good weather wise for the crop. I'm going to freeze some to give me a splash of summer this upcoming winter.

If you want to learn more about eating seasonally (e.g. how to make the most of strawberry season; blueberry season; fall's harvest, etc.), I recommend picking up How to Pick a Peach: The Search for Flavor from Farm to Table by Russ Parsons. It's not just about peaches but arranged by season, so it offers advice on how to pick and cook produce per time of the year. It's opened my eyes to the kinds of foods I can get, eat, prepare and savor from local farms. I've been swapping for ingredients, too. Eco-PR gal extrodinare Paige Wolf had extra beets from this week's CSA delivery, so I swapped her some peaches for beets and basil. I don't think a beet's ever seen the inside of my kitchen, but I'm trying a recipe for them from Parsons' book. I'll report back.

Fruit season couldn't come at a better time, at least for me. I've hit some snags in the last few weeks, both personally and professionally. I have a few ways of ironing out the kinks. One is running (I'll see y'all at the Bridge Run and the half marathon of the Philly Marathon this fall). The other is baking. So last weekend I used fresh Jersey blueberries to make a Blueberry Boy Bait; fresh blueberries, peaches and blackberries (OK, with some bananas) for a wonderful fruit salad; and this afternoon, I'm making Sour Cream Peach Kuchen, a recipe from Sonsie, a restaurant and wine bar that calls the Pier at Caesars home. The recipe is below. I think by taking my mind out of my immediate head and focusing it on something else (the run, the recipe), my mind works out some problems on its own. I wouldn't be the writer I am today without running. It's been a major boost for my health and my work life.

Also, you might have noticed that I haven't been down the shore too much lately. Those bumps in the road have something to do with it, and I'm plain ol' tired from running back and forth to the shore of over a year now. I'm cooking up some good events in August, and it looks like I'll be taking a September vacation down the shore -- my favorite time to go. Until then, here's the recipe!

Sour Cream Peach Kuchen from Sonsie in Atlantic City

3 cups all purpose flour
1¼ c sugar, divided use
½ t baking powder
¼ t salt
1 c butter
5 white peaches (peeled and sliced)
5 yellow peaches (peeled and sliced)
1 t ground cinnamon


4 egg yolks
2 c sour cream
2 T sugar
¼ T ground cinnamon

Preparation - kuchen:

Preheat oven to 400 degrees F. Grease a 13x9- inch baking dish.

In a bowl, combine the flour, ¼ cup sugar, baking powder and salt. Cut in butter until mixture resembles coarse crumbs. Press onto bottom and 1-inch up sides of prepared baking dish.

Arrange peaches over crust. Combine cinnamon and remaining sugar. Sprinkle over peaches.

Bake at 400 Degrees for 15 minutes.

Preparation - topping:

In a bowl, combine egg yolks and sour cream. Spread evenly over peaches.
Combine sugar and cinnamon, sprinkle over the top.
Bake 30-35 minutes longer or until golden.
Serve warm or cold.

**Update** The Sour Cream Peach Kuchen was the hit of dinner last night. It was relatively easy to make, too, so I highly recommend!

Digg this


John and Lisa Howard-Fusco said...

Great stuff, Jen.


Leah Ingram said...


You're making my mouth water. Up here in Central Jersey, there are tons of roadside stands selling peaches. I was wondering why it was all peaches, all the times, instead of just tomatoes. Now I know that they're in season locally; I'll have to make a stop on my next trip to Flemington. Thanks for including the recipe, too. Oh and the cool photos of the peach-packing plant--where is it, by the way? How does the fruit not get all bruised and icky going down those conveyor belts?


Jen A. Miller said...

Leah -

Peaches are techincally ripe while still hard in that they've gotten all the sugars and good stuff they will from the tree. If you pick it then, you have about 2-3 days until it gets all soft and juicy. These peaches are picked then, packed then and ripen as they ship.

The packing plant is way down in Gloucester County, near Mullica Hill (which is a very pretty town). The early hot weather meant peaches were coming in early this year. The farmers are predicting that they'll have peaches until mid-September. Yum!

I also recommend the nectarines (which are peaches without fuzz). Yum again!

I'm going to try freezing some peaches tonight so I have them for smoothies and baking this winter. I'll report back!