Plus, learn how to determine when your stone fruit is perfectly ripe and ready to be enjoyed.
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wooden bowl filled with peaches
Credit: Paola + Murray

Whether freestone, clingstone, semi-clingstone or donut, peaches are best enjoyed when perfectly ripe. Few things are more upsetting than biting into a peach that isn't quite ready to be eaten. If it's not the height of summer when peaches are most likely to be ripe, what can you do to avoid biting into a hard, flavorless peach? The quest for the perfect peach starts in the market.

What Should You Look for When Shopping for Peaches?

Molly Siegler, culinary development at Whole Foods Market, says that "color, touch, and smell are your very best indicators on the quality of peaches. A ripe peach is soft and will yield to a gentle squeeze." According to Jeffery Steingarten, famed food critic and the author of The Man Who Ate Everything, perhaps even more critical is finding a physically mature peach. They should "have fully developed shoulders (the rounded area around the stem) and sutures (the seam that runs along one side)." Both agree that the color of the flesh should be completely free of any greenish tint or undertones on the skin. David Lebovitz, baking expert and author of Ripe for Dessert, adds that "many peaches are shipped hard and underripe, so they don't get bruised," explaining why some markets have more underripe peaches than ripe ones!

What's the Best Way to Ripen Peaches?

If you still can't find ripe peaches after using the methods above, all is not lost: You'll still be able to enjoy juicy ripe peaches, but it may take an extra day or two. To ripen peaches at home, Siegler recommends "gently tucking the peaches, stem-side down, into a brown paper bag and then folding the opening to close." Closing the bag traps in the natural ethylene gas that the peach releases as it matures, speeding up the ripening process. Lebovitz points out that when peaches are left "on their round side, you risk that edge getting mushy or dented as the peach ripens." As Steingarten points out in his book, one thing to remember is that harvested peaches can ripen in color, texture, and juiciness, but they will not improve in the sweetness of flavor once removed from the tree.

What's the Fastest Method for Ripening Peaches?

According to Siegler, you can employ other fruits to speed up the ripening process by "putting a banana or apple in close proximity to your bag of peaches" because apples and bananas give off more even ethylene gas than peaches, encouraging faster ripening. However, she warns to "keep a close eye on the peaches if you try this method," as they tend to go from perfectly ripe to overripe in a matter of hours.

How Can You Tell When Your Peaches Ripe?

Aside from the methods previously mentioned (color, physical maturity, and touch), Lebovitz notes that "a fully ripe peach will have a generous peach aroma."

How Can You Use Overripe Peaches?

If your peaches slip past their most desired stage of ripeness, starting to get a bit mushy, not all is lost. Lebovitz shares a few tasty ways to get the most out of an overripe peach. It's "best to peel and cook them until tender, puree with some sugar (and perhaps a shot of kirsch) and churn them into Peach Sorbet." He adds that "you can also use them to make a crisp or cobbler, rather than a pie, as they'll be quite juicy and are best suited for being baked in a high-sided baking dish, rather than a pie tin or plate."

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