Food

Market Watch: Indian Blood Freestone peaches are diamonds in the fuzz

Lima (Peru)

The most distinctive and enigmatic stone fruit in markets currently is the Indian Blood Freestone peach. The first thing you'll note is its intense rose-like aroma, which can fill a room with peachy perfume. The fruits look like nothing else, with thick white fuzz over mottled red and creamy white skin, which can give them an odd gray-green cast; the flesh is snowy white with blotches of red — occasionally it can be spectacularly, fully red, almost like a beet.

When really ripe — look for specimens that are plump and rounded near the stem end, with a vibrant cream background color — they've got a great balance of sweetness and acidity, and a unique berrylike or vinous flavor. Both the color and taste carry through famously well in ice cream.

In France, where similar varieties have been grown for centuries, they are called pêches de vignes because they traditionally were planted in vineyards, where red grapes supposedly imparted rubincundity. Actually, red flesh, derived from anthocyanin pigments, is just one of three ancestral peach color types, although deep red kinds are rarer than yellow or pure white ones. The Spanish brought red-fleshed peaches to southeastern North America, where the seeds were diffused by Indians (whence the "Indian Blood" name) and by settlers.

Betty Kennedy of Dinuba obtained budwood of the variety in her native Arkansas, and she and her husband, Truman, sell the fruits at the Santa Monica farmers market. Jeff Rieger of Penryn will have them there in a week or two. Yingst Ranch of Littlerock now offers the Indian Blood Clingstone, a similar variety with larger, tarter fruits, at the Riverside (Friday), Pasadena Victory Park and Hollywood markets, and will have the freestones a couple of weeks later. The second week of September, Tenerelli Orchards will sell Indian Blood Free at Beverly Hills, Hollywood and Santa Monica.

On the downside, Indian Blood peaches are very delicate, and only a portion of the fruits fulfill the variety's potential — underripe fruits can be quite tart, and overripe ones develop brown spots and turn mealy. So come early to choose ripe but pristine fruits, and bring a padded box to get them home unbruised. In the best, ripest specimens, the stone is so free that it actually pulls away from the flesh at the stem end, which provides ingress for insect intruders, especially fruit flies, which are attracted to Indian Blood peaches above all other fruits.

Fruit flies are the bane of the fruit lover's kitchen. I deal with the problem by stationing two fruit fly traps to protect my Indian Blood peaches and other vulnerable varieties. They don't immediately annihilate all fruit flies, but they do reduce the population considerably over a few days. When the liquid bait inside the trap loses its allure to the flies, refresh it with Gravenstein apple vinegar, which is moderately priced and has a fruity fragrance that works well. Another option to ward off flies is to put fruit in a bowl, place narrow-mesh netting over the top and secure it with an elastic band or some similar contrivance.

Lima beans do have fans

Anyone who remembers soggy, starchy lima beans from school cafeteria steam tables may find it ironic that when McGrath Family Farm's fresh crop of Fordhook limas showed up at markets this week, they generated a buzz accorded to very few vegetables. It's no surprise, though, because they're so sweet, tender and moist, and they're simple to cook. Depending on how young and tender they are, I steam them for 20 to 30 minutes, and then dress them with a little olive oil or butter.

The slightly tricky part is that, in order to harvest a crop over several months, Phil McGrath puts in a new planting every few weeks, so depending on the point in the planting cycle, the beans can be tiny and tender, or larger and somewhat starchier. His shelled limas, fed through an automated shucker, are more convenient than the ones still in their pods but also more perishable; they should be used within a few days, before they turn slimy.

McGrath sells at the Camarillo, Beverly Hills, Hollywood, South Pasadena, Newport Beach and Santa Monica Wednesday farmers markets.

Figs at their peak

Unless you live in a warm area and grow figs in your garden, farmers markets are the best source for this luscious but perishable fruit. The year's second and main crop of figs is at peak abundance and quality now, tempting but requiring savvy decisions to experience the fruits at their best. Produced on this year's wood, the fruits of this crop are smaller than the first-crop figs of a month or six weeks ago, and in general they have thinner, more edible skin and richer, more concentrated flavor.

Figs that are smooth-skinned and firm will likely have dry, vegetal pulp; look for fruits that give slightly to the touch and have tattered, stretch-marked skin and perhaps a drop of honeyed liquid oozing from the eye at the bottom ("the eye of a widow and the cloak of a beggar," runs an old description). The ideal is to bite into a fruit — or better yet, slice it in half, to make sure no bugs or rot are inside — and find that it's like fig jam.

The most "cosmopolitan" variety is Black Mission. It flourishes and produces good fruit in a variety of growing areas, from coastal valleys to Fresno. Its dark skin gives it a wild, spicy taste, and its strawberry-colored flesh, though rather coarse, has welcome acidity to balance its sweetness.

Those of a certain age will remember when Kadota figs were commonly available canned, because their thick, rubbery skins held up to processing. This market has faded, and the fresh fruits, with green to golden yellow skin and amber pulp, are sweet but bland.

Calimyrna figs — huge, flattish and yellow — are so voluptuous they're tempting to buy fresh, but at that stage they're unidimensionally, almost insipidly sweet. They're at their best dried, several weeks later, when their honeyed, nutty flavor emerges and makes them the standard of excellence in dried figs.

My personal favorite is Adriatic, which has small fruits with very thin, greenish skin and intensely flavored strawberry jam pulp. They are only at their best when dead ripe, at which point, to an even greater extent than with other varieties, there's a thin line between perfection and rot.

food@latimes.com

Copyright © 2014, Los Angeles Times
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