Do I Dare to Eat a Peach?
From The Love Song of J.Alfred Prufrock by T.S.Eliot
With crimson-flushed downy cheeks, succulent flesh and ambrosial juice, a ripe peach is the most sensual of fruits. Its voluptuous beauty has long been a source of inspiration for lovers, artists and poets. T.S.Eliot refers to it in The Love Song of J.Alfred Prufrock (1915) "Do I dare to eat a peach?". Monet, Renoir and other well-known artists show it in the most evocative of paintings. It is the fruit most loaded with erotic innuendo – "all pink and yellow and dimpled and juicily cleft as Renoir's dappled baigneuses" wrote the late American William A.Fahey.
The Chinese and Japanese, great growers and eaters of peaches, still celebrate the blossoming of the peach tree in spring, the season of renewal and growth. Brides in both countries wear wreaths of peach blossom as a symbol of virginity and fertility. In Ancient Greece the peach was a symbol of happy marriage, while in Korea it represents happiness, prosperity and longevity.
As the late Alan Davidson wrote in his excellent book Fruit: A Connoisseurs Guide and Cookbook, "To be at its best, a peach has to ripen on the tree." Meanwhile, quirky gastronome and gardener Edward Bunyard (1878–1939) states in The Anatomy of Dessert "Of the gathering of peaches much might be said". He goes on to advise that "they are neither pinched nor pulled off, but rather stroked off. A fond and delicate hand is applied, and a gentle rotatory movement should suffice if they are ripe."
Moving on to culinary matters, once you have sated yourself with fresh peaches, try cooking them in delicious desserts. They are superb lightly poached in a fragrant syrup. Try my recipe for Peaches in Strawberry and Rose Syrup. Another option is to use them skinned and chopped in Peach and Amaretti Ricotta Ice-Cream.
An iconic dessert is Peach Melba, created in the late 19th century by French chef Escoffier to honour Australian soprano Dame Nellie Melba. It's a concoction of poached peach halves, topped with raspberry sauce and optional flaked almonds, served with vanilla ice cream. You'll find plenty of recipes on-line and in cookbooks.
Another classic – a cocktail this time – is Peach Bellini. Originating in Venice, it's a mix of white peach purée and champagne, prosecco or other sparkling wine, served in a super-chilled glass without any ice. I once enjoyed this so much at Harry's Bar that I had to order a second. I was tempted to have a third, but common sense reigned.
The peach, and its close cousin the nectarine, are at their very best at the moment. They're in season until the end of September, so make the most of them while you can.
© Christine McFadden, August 2022