Know Your Fruits and Veggies™: Peaches

By Dawn M. Swidorski

Food - peachesPeaches are one of the most delightful of the summer fruits that has an, oh so sweet, but painfully short season.

Scientifically the peach is classified as Prunus Persica and is also closely related to the almond subgenus. The peach is an edible and juicy fruit of a deciduous tree that produces delicate pink petals each spring and a light fragrant aroma.

The peach got its name from the Greek philosopher Theophrastus around 300 B.C. who thought it came from Persia (now Iran) hence the designation Persica. However, they actually originated and were first cultivated in China as early as the 10th century B.C. and peaches are often found on paintings and illustrations of that era. They were introduced to Persia and the Mediterranean region along the Silk Road and reached Europe with the Romans sometime around the birth of Christ.

Peaches, along with cherries, plums and apricots, are considered stone fruits (drupes). Peaches are divided into two basic types: clingstones where the flesh clings to the stone (pit) and freestones where the flesh does not. Both clingstones and freestones can have either white or yellow flesh. Each fruit has a single brown seed that is oval shaped and surrounded by a convoluted woody husk. One side of the fruit has a distinctive vertical indentation and sport the trademark fuzzy skin.

Peaches and nectarines are very closely related and are self pollinating. In fact, a peach tree can suddenly begin producing nectarines and then several years later return to producing peaches (and vice versa). Charles Darwin even observed incidences where a half peach, half nectarine fruit was produced on the tree.

Like many fruits and vegetables they can be easily grown from the stone (pit) but be sure not to plant it near an almond or they may cross and result with bitter fruit and bitter almonds.

White-fleshed peaches are the most popular variety in Asia, while Europeans and North Americans generally prefer the more acidic, yellow-fleshed kind.

The flesh is very delicate and easily bruised in many varieties. Peaches are best when picked ripe as many cultivars do not ripen well after they have been picked. Peaches actually taste best eaten “warm” from the tree.

Peaches can be used for salads and a variety of desserts, peach puree, peach juice (both of which can be frozen), chutneys and jam.