Peaches originated in China a very long time ago, the textbooks tell us, but when I was growing up, I thought they originated in my mother's peach cobbler. This luscious treat was always a sign that summer was coming; she must have grabbed up the first peaches she saw in the market and raced them home to bake. To this day I associate the taste of the cobbler -- the hot, slightly tart peaches, the dense, slightly sweet biscuit-dough topping, and the cold fresh cream -- with the smell of just-mown grass, and the first tentative appearance of fireflies.
But to confine them to cobbler is to miss much of their appeal. Peaches are a lively and versatile fruit that combine well with other flavors both sweet and savory. In the Middle East, they are combined with meat or poultry in a savory topping over rice. In Greece, they are combined with roasted green peppers in a salad.
However they are served, they are low in calories (about 37 per medium peach), low in sodium (just a trace), low in fat (just .1 gram per medium peach) and have a respectable amount of carbohydrate (9.7 grams). The same size peach (about 4 ounces) has 465 International Units of vitamin A, 6 milligrams of vitamin C and 171 milligrams of potassium.
An example of a peach and poultry recipe from a source closer to home is this recipe from "The Trellis Cookbook," by Marcel Desaulniers, based on cuisine the noted Virginia chef serves at the Trellis restaurant in Colonial Williamsburg (Fireside, Simon & Schuster, $15). In a note, he suggests using firm but ripe peaches and being careful not to overcook them. He also says the black-pepper butter can be prepared up to several days in advance and stored in the refrigerator. It should be brought to room temperature before use.
Chicken breast with peaches, ham and pepper
8 8-ounce boneless and skinless chicken breasts
1 cup dry white wine
1/4 cup fresh lemon juice
salt and pepper to season
1/2 pound unsalted butter, softened
6 tablespoons minced shallots
1 tablespoon cracked black peppercorns
4 pounds peaches, unpeeled
1/2 pound country ham, cut into strips 1 1/2 inches long and 1/8 inch wide
Trim any excess fat from the chicken breasts. In a stainless steel bowl, combine 1/4 cup white wine and the lemon juice, season with salt and pepper, and blend thoroughly. Sprinkle over the chicken breasts. Place the chicken breasts (one at a time) between two layers of lightly oiled aluminum foil or parchment paper. Uniformly flatten each breast with a meat cleaver or the bottom of a saute pan. Wrap each chicken breast in plastic wrap and refrigerate until needed.
Heat 1 tablespoon butter in a non-stick saute pan over medium heat. When hot, add the minced shallots, season with salt and pepper and saute for 1 minute. Add the remaining 3/4 cup wine and bring to a simmer. Adjust the heat and simmer until the pan is almost dry, about 15 minutes. Transfer the reduced mixture to a stainless-steel bowl and allow to cool at room temperature. When cool, combine the remaining butter. Add the cracked peppercorns and combine thoroughly. Cover the black-pepper butter with plastic film and keep at room temperature until ready to use.
Wash the unpeeled peaches and cut each peach into 8 sections.
Heat the oven to 225 degrees.
Unwrap chicken breasts, season lightly with salt and pepper and grill over a medium charcoal or wood fire for 2 1/2 to 3 minutes on each side. (Test for doneness; the insides should not be pink. If necessary, grill one or two minutes longer.) Transfer the chicken to a baking sheet, baste with half the black pepper butter, then hold in the heated oven while completing the recipe.
Heat the remaining black pepper butter in a large non-stick saute pan over medium-high heat. When hot, add the ham and saute for 30 seconds. Add the peaches and saute until just warm, 3 to 4 minutes.
Portion the warm peach and ham mixture on each of 8 warm 10-inch plates, arranged toward the outside edge. Place a chicken breast in the center of the peach mixture and serve immediately.