Peaches are exquisite to eat out of hand, and you can use them to enliven many savory dishes, but the ones available in late summer are so radiantly sweet and succulent, they are a natural choice for desserts and other lighthearted fare.
Whether you're making preserves, pie, or another treat, you'll discover that peaches complement an array of nuts, fruits, and herbs. Almonds and peaches are a classic pairing. In fact, the two are botanical cousins, which helps explain why peach pits look a bit like unshelled almonds. Peaches are also related to plums, apricots, cherries, and nectarines, and all work wonderfully together. (The nectarine is a smooth-skinned type of peach -- some peach trees even produce the occasional nectarine.) Acidic ingredients, such as lemon, lime, and orange, are a good match because they balance the sweetness of peaches and slow the browning of the cut flesh. And basil, rosemary, and lemon verbena strike a lovely, piquant note.
Peaches -- there are dozens of varieties -- are classified as clingstone or freestone based on how easy it is to dislodge the pit from the flesh. The former is widely used for commercial canning; most fresh peaches are freestones. The fruits also come in two main colors: white peaches are more prone to bruising than their yellow peers, but connoisseurs tout them as especially fragrant and juicy.
When shopping for peaches, don't use the blush on their cheeks to judge ripeness; look instead at the background color, which should be yellow or cream, depending on the variety. Avoid fruit with a green cast, as this means it was picked prematurely and will not be sweet. Select larger peaches, which are more flavorful. They should have an appealing aroma and feel slightly soft. Ripen firm peaches in a loosely closed paper bag. Store ripe peaches in the refrigerator, and use them as quickly as possible. While overripe peaches are acceptable for jams or frozen desserts, they will be too mushy for most cooked dishes.
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White Peach Juice
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White Peach Sherbet