In pursuit of the perfect peach

TERRY MARKOWITZ AND ELLE HARROW

At last, summer fruit!

Who doesn't remember the exquisite sensation of inhaling the

ambrosial fragrance of a perfect peach; then the sweet luscious

flavor bursting in your mouth with that first juicy bite?

Yet every summer, although we are confronted by a profusion of

these rosy golden orbs that promise to deliver gastronomic glory, we

are almost always sadly disappointed. Hungry with anticipation, we

rush to our nearest supermarket, hurry to the produce section and

encounter a perfectly composed pyramid of peaches. They look gorgeous

but they seem a bit hard. The produce man suggests that we leave them

on the counter for a day or two.

Three days later, ripened and ready, we take our long awaited

first bite. No juice runs down our chin, no explosion of sweetness

fills our mouth. In fact, the flavor is somewhere between potato and

soap.

Your best bet for finding a decent piece of fruit is at our Laguna

Farmer's Market, but you still gotta know how to pick 'em. The very

first thing to do is to turn the peach over and see if the stem end

is green or even slightly green. This peach has been picked too

early.

Although after a peach is picked it will get softer and juicier if

left to ripen, it will never get any sweeter.

How sweet is it? The nose knows. Though some people may look at

you strangely, you must sniff the peaches. If it doesn't have a

strong sweet fragrance, put it down!

Peaches with tan spots have already started to decay even if they

are still hard. Since you rarely find a peach that is ready to eat,

monitor them daily and refrigerate them when they have softened .

They can go bad overnight. If you need to ripen them quickly, put

them in a brown paper bag with an apple. If you don't have a

professorship in peaches, the beauty of the farmer's market is that

the vendors have samples for tasting.

Did you know that California is the state that grows the most

peaches? The Chinese revere the peach as a symbol of long life and

immortality (but don't suck too hard on that pit, it contains a small

amount of cyanide that gives the peach it's tang).

If you find the perfect peach, eat it over the sink with the

juices dripping down your chin, and as for the rest, here are a few

suggestions:

* Add thinly sliced firm peaches to a green salad with honey

mustard or another slightly sweet dressing. Walnuts go nicely here as

well.

* Use thinly sliced peaches on a turkey sandwich instead of

tomatoes.

* Use thinly sliced peaches in a grilled cheese sandwich for a

tasty twist.

* Bake or grill halved peeled peaches with a little butter and

brown sugar to use as an accompaniment to meats.

Here is a recipe for the best peach cobbler that we have ever

tasted. The crust never gets soft and mushy no matter how juicy the

peaches. It serves eight.

FILLING

* 8 large peaches

* 1/2 cup sugar

* juice of 1/2 lime

TOPPING

* 3 cups flour

* 1 1/2 cups sugar

* 1 tablespoon baking powder

* 4 large eggs, beaten

* 6 tablespoons melted butter

DIRECTIONS

1. Preheat oven to 375 degrees.

2. Pit the peaches. Cut each peach into 8 wedges. Cut each wedge

in half.

3. Combine filling ingredients and put it in a 9-inch pie dish.

4. Whisk together flour, sugar and baking powder in large bowl.

5. Pour beaten eggs evenly onto flour mixture. Using your hand

like a spatula, fold the eggs gently into the flour and lightly mix

with your finger tips until just crumbly. Be careful not to overmix

or you will have a solid lump.

6. Evenly distribute this mixture over the peaches.

7. Drizzle butter on top and bake until golden brown,

approximately 50 minutes.

This may be served warm or cold and is great with ice cream!

For a variation, add 1/2 cup of raspberries or blueberries to

the peaches.

Easier than pie, peach clafoti, a warm French dessert or brunch

dish, is like a custardy pancake. Even though it must be baked just

before serving, it can be assembled in just a few minutes if you

prepare the peaches ahead of time. This recipe serves six.

PEACHES

* 3 large peaches, peeled ( to peel more easily, dip for ten

seconds in a pot of boiling water) and cut into half-inch cubes

* grated zest of one lemon

* 1/4 cup sugar

* 1/4 cup orange liqueur

* 2 tablespoons unsalted butter for the pan

BATTER

* 3 eggs

* 1/3 cup sugar

* 1 cup milk or vanilla flavored soy milk

* 1/2 cup cream or soy sour cream

* pinch of salt

* 1 teaspoon vanilla

* 1 cup flour

DIRECTIONS

1. Combine peaches with zest, sugar and liqueur and let them sit

for about one hour.

2. Preheat the oven to 375.

3. Butter a pie dish. Place the fruit on the bottom.

4. In a blender or food processor, add batter ingredients in the

order they are listed and pulse to combine until there are no lumps.

Let batter rest for 5 minutes, then pour over fruit in dish. Bake 35

minutes or until puffy and golden.

5. Sprinkle with powdered sugar if desired.

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