In Love with Stone Fruit: Featuring a Peach Salad Recipe

by Kirke on July 16, 2013

In Love With Stone Fruit

High Definition photographic slide show set to music with whole and sliced assorted stone fruit, peaches, nectarines, cherries, and plums.

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Botanically speaking, stone fruit are members of the rose family (prunus) which includes: plums, cherries, apricots, peaches and its non-fuzzy twin the nectarine. However, these siblings originate in different parts of the world. Apricots and peaches are natives of China, the cherry hails from Europe and West Asia, and plums originally grew in the Caucasus. The apricot has been cultivated since 2000 BC, spreading through Persia, taking root in the Mediterranean region by the first century AD.

The peach also travelled west through Persia, where it was discovered by Alexander the Great during a break while conquering everyone in the vicinity. That led to its Latin name persica (from the Latin malum Persicum, or Persian apple), which eventually became the moniker we know today, the Peach. The unique characteristics and popularity of the fruit has led to its name being ascribed to numerous colloquialisms: referring to an attractive woman as in “she’s a peach,” or to describe a type of complexion “peaches and cream.”

Frog Hollow Peaches
Frog Hollow Peaches

Rich Lady Peaches from Contra Costa County, California

Frog Hollow Peaches

 

Georgia has long been known as the Peach state, but it actually is third on the list of largest United States peach producers. Number two is South Carolina, and California is the number one peach grower, producing about 70% of the nation’s crop or more than 1 million tons in 2012. That seems like a lot until you learn that China harvested 10 million metric tons in 2010. There are two varieties of peaches, clingstone and freestone. Just as you would guess, these names derive from how easily the fruit detaches from the pit. Pectin, which acts as glue, holding the fruit’s cell walls together, becomes more soluble during ripening in the freestone varieties. Consequently, clingstone peaches are used for canning and freestone are sold as eating out of hand peaches. The US crop is usually evenly divided, around of 50% of each kind being planted each year.

Peaches are a good source for potassium, contain the precursor for Vitamin A, and have Vitamin C, too. Do eat and enjoy the skin. It is loaded with anthocyanins, phytochemicals that probably do something really groovy in your body with their buddies, the flavonoids. But don’t worry too much about that, just eat the skin, it has a pleasant bite!

There is something appropriately natural about the fact that the fruit part of a peach develops from the flower’s female tissue, the ovary, which encloses the maturing seeds. Most fruits simply consist of thickened ovary walls. In stone fruits, the fruit derives from an ovary sitting above the base of the flower parts. In the picture below, the orange color signifies the ovary, before and following development into fruit.

Follow the Orange color:Ovary to Peach
Follow the Orange color:Ovary to Peach
Follow the Orange color:Ovary to Peach

 

Following fertilization by the male pollen, hormones promote growth of the ovary wall, where upon cells multiply, swelling during maturation. Water and minerals from the roots, and sugars newly synthesized by the leaves feed the fruit’s cell growth to many times their original size. More than 350,000 times larger in the case of watermelons. The last stage of growth is unique to fruit. It is a sudden, rapid set of changes that leads directly to its demise. Several things happen all at once. Skin color changes, usually from green to some other color, starch and acid decrease, while sugar content goes up. Some elements disappear, texture softens, and a fruity aroma lets you know the flesh is sweeter, tastier, delicate in texture, and ready for consumption. Or the fruit might drop onto the ground and grow into a new peach tree.

It is because of the action of many different enzymes that fruit goes through all these changes. Some enzymes convert stored starch to sugars, a defining characteristic of bananas. In some fruit, sugar content is dependent on when they are picked, all their sugars being derived from their leaves, such as melons, citrus, and pineapples. If these fruits are picked when less than ripe, they will never get any sweeter, but their texture might improve due to the action of pectin enzymes.

 

Some of you may have heard that produce distributors gas under-ripe green tomatoes and oranges to giving them faux-ripe colors before they have naturally ripened on the plant. The reasoning behind this practice is that under-ripe fruit is much more forgiving of the rough and tumble endured during transp0rt than ripe fruit. This gas, ethylene, is also produced by all parts of the fruit plant where it acts as a hormone, initiating the ripening process in a self-regulating manner. The gas itself is not responsible for the plastic-like tomatoes you find in your grocery stores, it is the act of removing the fruits pre-maturely from their source of nutrients—the plant. Ethylene releases the enzymes responsible for ripening, increasing the fruit’s respiration rate, the conversion of oxygen to carbon dioxide, by two to five times, which is a sign of intense biochemical activity.

While the discovery of the role ethylene plays in fruit ripening has been a boon to distributers, allowing for long distance shipping with little loss of produce, the consumer gets stuck with out of season fruit that tastes like cardboard, with high acid levels, low sugar levels, and little of the heady aromas we associate with ripe fruit. When fruits are removed prematurely from their nourishment, complexity is sacrificed. Gone are fully developed flavors, deeply fresh sweetness and all the pleasure we were looking forward to is absent. When consumers pay their hard earned money of inferior produce that poorly represents each variety, fruit gets a bad rap, leading to lower levels of consumption, which means malnourishment for our citizens.

It is like the difference between a young teenage lover and an experienced, seasoned adult lover. The former comes in a pretty package, but all you get is a shallow, bland experience leaving you disappointed. The latter provides a rewarding relationship stemming from a fulfilling encounter. Choose wisely.

Baby Spinach and Arugula Salad with Frog Hollow Peaches, Feta Cheese and Spicy Toasted Almonds

 

About: The Peaches

Frog Hollow Farms, which is just outside of San Francisco in Brentwood, nestled on the Sacramento River Delta, has been blessing my summer menus with a taste of paradise for years by delivering their unrivaled peaches to my kitchen doorstep. Since leaving the restaurant business, I’ve tried and mostly failed finding their fruit consistently in local grocery stores. Instead I have begun to have their peaches once again delivered to my doorstep, this time via UPS from their farm to my home. For some people, $3.50 per peach might seem like an extravagance, but from my perspective the price is a steal, even wildly under-valued. The cost is less than a good beer, and just as refreshing on a hot summer day.

Frog Hollow has a complete line of fresh stone fruit, a few other fruits, as well as spreads by the jar. Their orchards have been CCOF (California Certified Organic Farmers) certified since 1989, a much stricter process than the more recent USDA NOP (National Organic Program) standard. That means fewer chemicals. They use natural fertilizers like seaweed, fish, limestone and compost. Weeds are used for ground cover, and then plowed back into the soil. Pest control also uses mostly natural means such as introducing beneficial insects, noise making machines to fight off birds, and if they have to spray anything they utilize natural bacterial insecticides or mineral based applications.

These are the peaches I dream about while longing for summer on cold winter days. Every season I have served the following salad, customers rave ecstatically about the Frog Hollow peaches. You can have the same experience. Before you decide to make this salad recipe, go online to:

Froghollow.com

Surf around the site and learn about Farmer Al.

Please feel free to use peaches from your own tree (if you are that lucky), or the best peach you can find in the area where you live. If you live in the San Francisco Bay Area, look for Kashiwase Farms organic stone fruit available in most area farmer’s markets, also a fine grower. They were featured in my Kids love fruits at the Farmer’s Market post.

Kashiwase Farms Organic Peaches
Kashiwase Farms Organic Peaches

Available at SF Bay Area Farmer’s Markets

Kashiwase Farms Organic Peaches

The recipe

 

For the Pear Vinaigrette (makes 1 cup)

Ingredients:

2 Tbs. shallot, peeled and minced
1 tsp. Dijon mustard
1/4 tsp. lemon zest
1 Tbs. lemon juice
4 Tbs. Pear Champagne vinegar
1/3 cup walnut oil
2/3 cup pure olive oil
1/4 tsp. sea salt

 

About: The Vinegar

You might ask why I use pear vinegar and not some other vinegar. I selected this vinegar due to its light fruit taste. Many fruit vinegars are often too fruity or too sweet, and might overpower the dish. I suggest using California Harvest Pear and Champagne Vinegar available at:

grapevinetrading.com

It’s only $7.20 for 8.45 ounces. This vinegar lends a subtle and ambiguous fruit flavor that stays in the background so as not to overpower the peaches. You could substitute with good quality apple cider vinegar or non-fruit, mild white vinegar like rice vinegar or white balsamic vinegar.

About: The Walnut Oil

You also might ask why I use walnut oil when the recipe calls for almonds. Why not almond oil? Why not use all nut oil instead of using a mixture with olive oil? The answer is that I don’t think almond oil has the right nuttiness. Walnut oil contributes a delicate nut flavor, but a dressing made with all walnut oil is just a little too nutty. Blending with a light olive oil (pure as opposed to extra-virgin) allows for the perfect mild nut flavor.

For the Spinach and Arugula Salad:

(serves 4-6 people)

5 oz. baby spinach, washed and dried (about one box of pre-washed)
1 oz. baby arugula, washed and dried (or use pre-washed)
2 oz. feta cheese, crumbled
1/4 cup spicy roasted whole natural almonds, chopped in halves
2 each best quality just ripe peaches, washed
2 oz. pear vinaigrette (see recipe above)
3-4 grinds freshly ground black pepper

 

About: The Almonds

Even if you find toasted almonds in the store (use unflavored), it is a good idea to re-roast them. (My instructions work best with a full cup of nuts, leaving some for thieving and snacking). I find they get stale sitting in storage, especially in bulk bins. Ideally, look for whole raw natural almonds and roast them yourself.

Roasting the nuts:

  • Pre-heat the oven to 325°F.
  • Spread the almonds flat on a cookie sheet and cook for 10 minutes.
  • Feel the nuts and make sure they feel hot, not just warm.
  • While they are still warm, place the nuts in a bowl and toss them with a few drops of pure olive oil, just enough to coat the nuts and to allow the spice to adhere.
  • Add 1/4 tsp. kosher salt (skip if all you have are salted nuts)
  • Add two healthy pinches of chili powder of some kind, tossing well. You can use a mild chili powder, or a hotter smokey chipotle powder or very hot cayenne pepper.
  • Toss well and reserve in an airtight container once they cool.

It is essential to chop the almonds, but try to only cut them in half, this leaves nice large pieces that are not too unwieldy for the mouth to handle. I don’t think sliced almonds work with this recipe, but do what makes you happy. I give my permission to substitute slivered almonds, but they will take less time to toast: try six minutes.

About: Assembling and Serving the Salad

(Chill the 4-6 plates you will use for service)

Place all the ingredients in a large bowl except for the dressing and peaches. Cut the peach into wedges directly into the bowl, then add the dressing and fold the salad carefully with a large serving spoon. A gentle folding action works best; in fact, your hands are the best tool to use to be sure the dressing is evenly distributed. Divide the greens evenly amongst the plates, then portion out the rest of the ingredients, sprinkling them on top. Arrange each plate to ensure each has an attractive presentation: peaches, nuts and feta, all somewhat evident. Serve immediately and love it.

References

Azmanam. (2011, December 10). Fruit ripening: How does it work? Retrieved June 17, 2013, from http://www.chemistry-blog.com/2011/10/12/fruit-ripening-how-does-it-work/

Everything about peaches: FAQ. (2013). Retrieved June 19, 2013, from Everything About Peaches website: http://www.clemson.edu/extension/peach/faq/index.html

About us. (2013). Retrieved June 19, 2013, from http://www.froghollow.com/pages/about-us

EWG 2013 shopper’s guide to pesticides in produce. (2013). Retrieved June 19, 2013, from Environmental Working Group website: http://www.ewg.org/foodnews/

McGee, H. (1984). On food and cooking. New York, NY: Macmillan.

Peach. (1996). In F. Fortin (Ed.), The visual food encyclopedia (pp. 200-201). New York, NY: Macmillan.

Harper, D. (2013). Peach. Retrieved June 21, 2013, from Online Etymology Dictionary website: http://www.etymonline.com/index.php?term=peach

Peach update 2013. (2013, February). Retrieved June 21, 2013, from http://www.treetop.com/ingredients/CMSFiles/Fruit%20Crop%20Update%20Feb%202013.pdf

Fruit anatomy. (2013). Retrieved July 11, 2013, from http://fruitandnuteducation.ucdavis.edu/generaltopics/AnatomyPollination/Fruit_Anatomy/

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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