Early summer brings out the little kid in me. Which is to say, the see it, want it, gotta have it tendencies in me.
It happens without fail, each year. After a seeming eternity of stone-fruit deprivation, I turn all moony-eyed at the greenmarket when crates of peaches once again make an appearance. I become so wooed, I’m embarrassed to admit, that even when I reach out and realize that the peaches are unyielding—not just a-little-shy-of-ripe hard but inconceivably, frustratingly, impossibly un-peach-pie-ably hard—I still can’t resist the siren call. Without fail, I proceed to heap those fuzzy little orbs into my waiting arms.
Buoyed by my sanguine mood, I place the peaches on the counter. And wait. For the first day or two I’m as giddy as a high school freshman with a senior crush, casting the object of my affection furtive glances. The second day, after they’ve softened ever so slightly, I’m gratified, relieved even. My overconfidence is quickly dashed, replaced by disbelief as the peaches slowly start to shrivel without softening or sweetening up. And so there they sit. Peaches that stubbornly refuse to ripen. Peaches that defy the very notion of ripeness, of peachiness. Peaches whose very presence mocks me. Denial. Relief. Disbelief. Disappointment. I know them well.
Wasn’t it Einstein who defined insanity as doing the same thing over and again yet expecting different results?
Each summer I do my penance for this little greenmarket gaffe, which I confess happens not just with peaches, but with plums as well as cherries, which cost me dearly at half a paycheck a pound. After being yanked countless times from my reverie and left to deal with the pile of stone-hard stone fruits that inhabit my kitchen, I’ve come to terms with a few things.
Throwing sugar at the problem works a certain magic, but only with slightly underripe stone fruits. Getting the fruit a little tipsy also works quite nicely, although this is best reserved for the more forgiving texture and less elusive sweetness of unripe cherries and plums—just toss them into a saucepan with sugar, some spice, and a hefty splash of booze, then let it gently burble and guggle until a heady, not-too-syrupy compote cloaks your problem. A scoop of gelato makes most guests all the more forgiving of the situation.
These tactics, sadly, will take you only so far with hard peaches, which is to say, not very far at all. These belligerent specimens detract and disappoint when used in anything that a reasonably ripe peach would ordinarily endow with sweet pleasure, whether pie or jam or crostata or crumble or standing at the kitchen sink. Trust me. I’ve had quite a lot of practice with this one. And may god help you if you try to sneak them into sangria.
I eventually came to the understanding that trying to turn stone-hard stone fruits into something they’re not is futile. Embracing what they are required far less effort, not to mention less disappointment. An underripe peach actually possesses a pleasing tartness and crisp crunch, which aren’t as intractable as they first seem. Although the taste and texture may not be remotely like what one has come to expect, I’ve come to flaunt what I once mistook as a seeming flaw. The result, at least lately, has been a simple, slightly sweet peach slaw. After all, I defy you to julienne a perfectly ripe peach. But an unripe one? See for yourself.
Michel Richard’s Peach Slaw
The Chefs of the Times | St. Martin’s Press, 2001 | 4 servings
LC Note: A perfectly ripe peach has its charms. But one that’s stubbornly slow to ripen? It has its own enticements, evidenced by this unconventional and savory side that bathes tart, crunchy peaches in slightly sweetened yogurt and spikes them with ginger. It’s adapted from a recipe dreamt up by chef Michel Richard of Citronelle in Washington, D.C. You’ll never pass by unripe peaches again.—Renee Schettler Rossi
1/2 cup plain whole milk yogurt
2 teaspoons sugar or honey
Juice from 1/2 lemon
1/2 teaspoon finely grated fresh ginger
4 unripe peaches (about 1 1/4 pounds), peeled and cut into 1/8-inch julienne
Salt and freshly ground black pepper to taste
1. To make the peach slow, in a medium bowl, combine the yogurt, sugar or honey, lemon juice, and ginger.
2. Add the peaches and salt and pepper to taste and toss gently.
3. Cover and refrigerate for at least 2 hours and preferably overnight.
4. Drain off any liquid that accumulates and stir gently to recombine prior to serving.
Recipe © 2001 Michel Richard. All rights reserved.
Photo © 2006 adwriter. All rights reserved.