This month you can hold those wrinkles at bay because peach season is upon us. The first crop of peaches are available now at farmers' markets throughout Los Angeles County. When you approach a farmstand selling peaches and you're offered a taste, you'll notice instantly that their fragrance and flavor are irresistible
Cultivation of peaches began in China as early as 2000 BCE, where the ancient Chinese thought of the peach as a symbol of the female genitalia and recognized its yin qualities. A Chinese bride was referred to as a peach. Around 300 BCE the Greeks and Persians were enjoying these juicy treats. In the first century AD the Romans were captivated by the peach and began cultivation. From Italy, the cultivation of peaches spread throughout Europe and to the Americas, where the early settlers planted them all throughout the eastern coast. By the mid-1700s, peaches were so plentiful in our country that botanists thought of them as native fruits.
Here are a few tips to help you select the best peaches in town: The tastiest fruits are at local farmstands and farmers' markets and are often organic. Those in supermarkets are rarely organic and often travel across state lines. They may or may not be tasty and are often picked too soon. Local peaches are picked at the peak of their sweetness and don't become sweeter as they soften. Look for the fruits that have a yellow or creamy color. These will be the sweetest. Avoid those with a tinge of green. They've been picked too early and will most likely not be sweet. Sweet peaches will have a wonderfully sweet fragrance, so don't hesitate to give them the aroma test. Avoid peaches that are too soft. These are overripe and will spoil very quickly.
Although peaches are cooked, canned, dried, pureed, boiled, roasted, and made into jam, the best flavor and nutritional benefits are derived from enjoying them fresh and whole, fuzz and all. In their natural state, no nutrients have been extracted and nothing harmful has been added.
Today's busy lifestyle often makes us seek out healthy recipes that fall into that easy-to-prepare category. Here's a winner from Zel's repertoire.
Present this salad when sweet stone fruits come into season. This combo packs the pungency of basil, the bite of onion, the creamy flavor of pine nuts, and the sweetness of peaches into a beautiful salad presentation. If you're aiming for a make-ahead prep, just add the peaches and dressing right before serving.
Just Peachy Pine Nut Salad is one of the delicious recipes from Zel Allen's cookbook The Nut Gourmet: Nourishing Nuts for Every Occasion published by Book Publishing Company in 2006.
Yield: 6 servings
Combine the peaches, lettuce, onion, basil, and bell pepper in a large bowl. Add the Poppy Seed Dressing and toss to coat well. Arrange the salad on an attractive serving platter. Garnish with the toasted pine nuts and serve.
Note: Any summer stone fruits would work in this salad in place of the peaches, as long as they are sweet. Even more appealing is a mixture of fruits. Peaches and nectarines, for example, are a tasty combination.
A sweet dressing is the perfect partner to Just Peachy Pine Nut Salad or a salad that has fruity ingredients or a preponderance of sweet vegetables like carrots, jicama, or sweet peppers. This dressing also balances salty ingredients like kalamata olives, hearts of palm, or marinated tofu.
Poppy Seed Dressing is one of the delicious recipes from Zel Allen's cookbook The Nut Gourmet: Nourishing Nuts for Every Occasion published by Book Publishing Company in 2006.
Yield: 1 1/2 cups (360 ml) dressing.
Combine all the ingredients in a 1-quart (1 liter) jar and shake well. Using a funnel, transfer the dressing to a narrow-neck bottle or similar container for easier serving. Stored in a covered container in the refrigerator, Poppy Seed Dressiing will keep for two weeks.