Unlike most of us, peaches do well in hot weather. The heat concentrates the sugars in the fruit, so while the peaches may not be plump, their flavors are potent.
Reading the peach literature, as I did recently, you become aware that the fruit has a strong hold on our imagination. Maybe it is because on stultifying summer days, about all a body can do is eat a juicy peach and fantasize.
Peaches have long been standards of human beauty. Women over the years have spent much money on ointments that promise to deliver complexions that look like "peaches and cream." Beauties such as Olivia de Havilland, who played Melanie in the 1939 classic film Gone With the Wind, have been described as "pretty as a peach."
The perfume of fresh peaches has roused authors to recount juicy adventures, some from childhood, some not. "Summer was drunken" with scents, wrote Henry Adams, describing a list of intoxicating aromas from his boyhood days in 19th-century New England. They included "hot-pine woods," lilacs and peaches. For author Henry James, who lived from 1843 to 1916, the "very air of summer afternoons" tasted of "peach gardens."
In more recent times, a correspondent asked an advice columnist for the News of the World newspaper if he should still marry his fiancee after he had passionately shared a peach with another woman. The advice columnist said he should put the wedding on hold.
The lure of fresh peaches also played a role in the 1977 demise of Italian fugitive Antonio Lo Muscio. For months, Lo Muscio had been evading Italian police using a variety of disguises. Then, in what an account in Newsweek described as an excess of "incaution," he appeared on the steps of San Pietro in Vincoli eating peaches. He was quickly spotted by police. He died in the ensuing gun battle.
Part of the drama of the fresh peach experience is that the pleasure is fleeting. Once peaches are ripe, rot is often right around the corner. Among farmers, this predicament is known as "sell it or smell it," California peach grower David Masumoto wrote in Four Seasons in Five Senses.
As this summer's crop began to roll in, I sniffed the peachy fragrance and started playing with fruit. I made a variety of dishes, ones that ordinarily I wouldn't put peaches in.
Until recently, I had been a peach purist. It is hard to beat the unadulterated delight of a ripe peach. I often eat one for lunch, making a juicy mess of my desk. I also like a breakfast of peaches and cream on sticky August mornings and a nighttime treat of a slice of peach pie.
But this year I tried to broaden my horizons, to add a few new items to my peach menu. So I bought some Maryland-grown Garnet Beauty peaches at a roadside market and retreated to my kitchen.
First I tried a salsa, a mixture of tomato, peaches and onion topped with dressing flavored with honey. The honey and peaches made the dish too sweet. A peach fizz drink was also unappealing.
Then I tried putting peaches in guacamole. I found the recipe in The Gourmet Cookbook, which credited Diana Kennedy, author of many Mexican cookbooks, with the idea of adding fruit to guacamole. The guacamole turned out to be surprisingly good and fiery. The fleshy chunks of peach were pleasing partners to the rich, squashed avocados.
The fire came from a serrano pepper. The recipe called for tossing in several of these potent peppers, as well as their firecracker seeds. I cut back on the pungency. I used only one pepper but did toss in the seeds. Those seeds provided several WOW! moments when I happened to crunch down on them. If I didn't hit a seed, the byplay between the hot pepper flesh and the sweet fruit worked well. Looking back, I think a kinder, gentler but still flavorful guacamole could be made by making the pepper seeds optional.
Those seeds make this dish a walk on the wild side. But once you have sniffed the peaches, you don't seem to care.
Makes about 2 cups
2 ripe avocados, halved, pitted, peeled
1/4 cup finely chopped white onion
1 serrano chile, minced (seeds optional)
1 1/2 tablespoons fresh lime juice
3/4 teaspoon kosher salt
1 ripe peach, peeled and diced
1/2 cup quartered, seedless green grapes
Combine avocados, onion, chile, lime juice and salt in a bowl and mash with fork until avocado is mashed but still somewhat chunky. Stir in peaches and grapes. Serve with tortilla chips.
Adapted from "The Gourmet Cookbook"
Per serving: 24 calories, 0 grams protein, 2 grams fat, 0 grams saturated fat, 2 grams carbohydrate, 1 gram fiber, 0 milligrams cholesterol, 46 milligrams sodium