There is no peach like a ripe peach.
And now is the time to get your fill. For about six weeks each year, from late July through August, local peaches are in season.
Despite the presence of Georgia and California peaches in the supermarket earlier in the summer, I'll put my money on northwest Ohio peaches. The California Tree Fruit Agreement recommends ripening the fruit at home for one to two days in a paper bag at room temperature. Never put the firm fruit in the refrigerator, they advise. It won't ripen and may become dry or mealy.
With Ohio peaches, you don't need a paper bag. Just let the peaches sit in the basket from the farm market on your kitchen countertop. Within a day or two, the peaches are ripe enough to slice on breakfast cereal, eat by hand, or cut up for peach shortcake.
Peaches that are shipped from points south and west are not tree-ripened. "Picked ripe makes all the difference in the world," said Steve Elzinga of Erie Orchards at 1235 Erie Rd. in Erie, Mich. "Peaches are pithy if they are picked too green. The fruit has to be on the tree until it is almost ready.
"I don't even eat peaches until this time of year," he said.
Red Haven peaches are considered by many to be the best peach for canning and freezing. "They don't discolor, they don't need lemon juice or acid or Fruit Fresh," said Bob MacQueen of MacQueen's Orchards at 7605 Garden Rd., Springfield Township. "Red Haven are semi-cling when ripe. The best flavor is the red around the pit."
Both orchards are having a big crop of fruit this year due to the rain and warm weather.
MacQueen's has 30 acres of peach trees and 250 acres of apples adjacent to the Ohio Turnpike. At the orchard, Red Haven peaches are ripe now; Flaming Fury are due this week; Harmony & Red Kist on Aug. 15, and Red Skin Peaches will be ready Sept. 1. The first fruit trees were planted by Bob's dad in 1936.
"Red Kist make great pies, but all are good for pies," said Marlene MacQueen, Bob's wife. "All will be freestone and a nice size because of the rain."
The orchard does not have U-pick, but the bakery in the market prepares peach pies, peach bread, peach coffeecake, and peach streusel.
At Erie Orchard, there are 25 acres of peach trees and 65 acres of apple trees. The season begins with Sweet Haven peaches, followed by ripening at weekly intervals of Red Haven, Glo Haven, Canadian Harmony, and Crest Haven.
The family farm and orchard have been in operation for 23 years. Peach trees are not as hardy as apple trees. "We are lucky to get 10 years out of a peach tree," said Mr. Elzinga.
U-pick is priced at 69 cents a pound; at 48 pounds, or one bushel, the price is 59 cents a pound. A peach is ready to pick off the tree if the green is gone from where the stem connects to the fruit. "Then it will take two to three days to soften and you can taste the flavor," he said. "It's too ripe to ship at this point."
Inside the farm market, apple spice doughnuts and apple fritters are sold. The Peach Celebration and Barn Sale will be Friday through Sunday; fresh peach cobbler, ice cream, peach picking, and horse-drawn wagon rides will be featured.
Last week, when a customer, who always used Red Haven, sampled Sweet Haven, she was amazed at its sweet flavor.
"Red Haven is not necessarily a better peach," said Mr. Elzinga. "But it is better known as the peach to can and freeze. We sell five times more Red Havens as any other variety."
Whatever peach you select, the litmus test on whether it is ripe is whether it comes off the pit when you slice it in half, twist, and pull apart, said the orchard owner.
Buy enough to freeze your own so you can savor the tastes of summer months throughout the year on cereal and in peach sundaes. Freeze as soon as possible once the peaches are ripe. I usually slice the fruit and add a little sugar and Fruit Fresh (or ascorbic acid).
When you are ready to eat frozen fruit, let it thaw in its package in the refrigerator. Serve it with a few ice crystals for the best texture.
Hopefully you have the time now to prepare those peach pies, peach cobbler, and peach crisp.
As for peach shortcake, peaches can be sliced or chopped. Some folks even mash the peaches to get as much juice out of them as they can. For the shortcake, use homemade biscuits or individual sponge shortcakes purchased at the supermarket. Top with a dollop of whipped cream or a scoop of vanilla ice cream.
Use prepared puff pastry to make Peach Gallettes. Whether you use peaches, nectarines, or plums, this dessert will look as if it came from a French patisserie.
Peaches from this area are a juicy summertime treasure. Enjoy!
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