July to September is peak peach season; which is just one more reason to love the summer months. There is something juicily comforting about peaches – and their smooth-skinned cousins, nectarines. Not only can you eat them on their own, but if the weather’s hot you can pop them into an ice cream sundae or turn them into a classic peach melba. Or put some peaches into a saucepan with star anise and some unsweetened apple juice, poach them until they’re meltingly soft, then eat them with some yoghurt or custard.
It’s incredibly frustrating to buy a pack of ‘perfectly ripe’ peaches or nectarines, then find you need to chisel off the flesh or, equally disappointing, take a bite and discover they’re powdery, dry and tasteless. There is an art to choosing a good peach, so don’t feel shy about picking up the fruit before you buy – they should give slightly to gentle pressure. If they’re harder, they should ripen with time; if they’re too soft, they are usually lacking in flavour and are often cotton-woolly in texture. They should also smell intensely like peaches. Another tip is not to look at the blush on the sides, but at the area close to the stem. If it’s green, it indicates the peach may have been picked too soon before its prime to ripen properly. A creamy yellow colour holds the promise of perfect peachy ripeness.
Peaches and nectarines are sensitive souls; they bruise easily and should be handled with care. If they aren't ripe, store them in a paper bag, taking care not pile them on top of each other. If they are tender, they can be stored in the refrigerator for up to a week, depending on the degree of ripeness. For full succulence, bring them to room temperature before eating and you’ll enjoy both flavour and aroma.
If you find that your peaches or nectarines won’t come off the stone, poaching them is a good option as the heat will soften the flesh – see our recipe for Poached Nectarines in Apple Juice. You could simply blanch them: put the peaches into a wire basket and submerge them in a large pan of water at a rolling boil. When the water comes back to the boil, blanch the peaches for 5 minutes, then remove from the pan and immerse in cold water to halt the cooking. When cooked, peaches are easily peeled.
Nutritionally, a medium-sized peach or nectarine contains about 35 calories – a perfect snack or dessert just as it is. Peaches are a fine source of vitamins A and C and fibre. They’re also rich in phytochemicals which act as antioxidants, ridding the body of free radicals that can cause cell damage.