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Peaches of summer bruise one another but tickle the palate


The peach crop has returned Hallelujah!

I am not saying that the early peaches were prize offerings. The ones I carved up the recently , for instance, had more bruises on them than the battered body of a weekend basketball player.

But as squashy as these peaches were, it was, nonetheless, nice to have them back where they belong, on the table, ready to eat.

Last year many states, including Maryland , didn't have a peach crop. It fell victim to a cruel, icy winter, a fate many of us could identify with. But this year the winter was less severe, and the trees that budded in the spring are now yielding summer fruit.

"It looks like it is going to be a real nice peach crop," Lester Dietz told me this week when I reached him by telephone at Baugher's Orchards in Westminster, Md. where he is manager of the packing house.

"Last year at this time we had nary a peach on a tree," Dietz said. This week, he said, the harvest of the early varieties of peaches was finishing up. Barring bad luck or big hailstorms, the rest of the peach crop should come in, sweet and juicy, from now until autumn, he said.

A s blast of 100-degree weather in July did not bother the peach trees, Dietz said. But the peach pickers felt its effects.

"When you've got peach fuzz on you and it's 105 degrees, you're pretty miserable," he said.

In a burst of enthusiasm over the return of the local crop, I ended up buying some bruisers, peaches that developed soft spots just by sitting next to each other in a bowl on the kitchen counter.

They did not look appealing. I knew if I was going to get my kids to eat these peaches I was going to have to remove the brown spots.

So early the other morning, I stood over the kitchen sink and performed peach surgery. At times the surgery was radical, but in the end, four, not-so-appealing peaches were transformed to one bowl of bright, skinless slices.

In my mind, one of summer's best breakfasts comes when you put slices of fresh peaches on cereal. But cereal should be flat and flaky. The only kindwe had was round and puffed. I didn't push the peaches and cereal option.

Instead I put a few peach slices in a bowl, and covered them with some cream.

I put the offering in front of the 14-year-old, who sometimes skips breakfast. He wolfed the peaches and cream down and bounded out the door.

The kid learned what I have known for some years now. If you start a summer's day with peaches and cream for breakfast, life looks good.

Recently I read about a more sophisticated, but equally passionate approach to peaches. It came from Karen Lee, who cooks whole peaches in a sauce made of red wine, brown sugar, cloves, cinnamon and vanilla. She first tasted the dish on a rainy night in a restaurant in the South of France. She and her companion got lost on the way to this restaurant and showed up two hours late for their reservation. The meal, however, saved the evening . It was spectacular, she said, especially the peach dessert. She got the recipe from the proprietor and has included it in her cookbook "The Occasional Vegetarian," (Warner Books $25).

Peaches in Red Wine

Serves 8 to 10

1 cup red wine

1/2 cup light brown sugar

1/2 teaspoon ground cinnamon

1 whole clove

pinch of freshly ground black pepper

3 pounds whole ripe peaches

1 teaspoon vanilla extract

Using a pan large enough to hold the peaches in a single layer that doesn't extend above the top bring the wine and brown sugar to a boil. Stir frequently with wooden spoon until the sugar dissolves. Add the cinnamon, clove and pepper. Add the peaches and cover.

Turn heat to medium-low and poach the peaches until they are cooked through, about 10 minutes. Remove the peaches from the sauce. Reduce the sauce until it is the consistency of maple syrup, about 15 minutes. You should have about 2/3 cup of sauce. Add the vanilla.

When the peaches are cool enough to handle, remove the skins. Serve the peaches, whole, halved or sliced. Pour sauce over peaches.

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