September 4, 2020

Jeanelle Olson

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A Last Slice of Summer

When good peaches are hard to find, treat them simply

I have a theory about a relationship between birthdays and fruit. The theory goes that your favorite fruit is whatever was in season where you were on the day you were born. The theory came about when my son, born at the height of our strawberry season, nearly bankrupted us after he tasted strawberries for the first time. The question that raised turned into a hunch after my husband, a late August baby born in Michigan, confessed that he was torn between melons and apples—a reflection of the shoulder season in the Fruit Belt.

It could make sense, couldn’t it? New babies, with their astonishing sense of smell, can sense their mothers, their fathers, and their homes by scent. So do we maybe also smell the fruit in the air, on a breeze, when we emerge earthside, the way I can always smell apples in the wind come early fall? Or is it imprinted a bit later, when we hit our first birthdays and we focus on whatever fruit is in the family bowl?

My favorite fruit is the peach. I was born at a time when the peaches come at us fast and profuse, on August 20. On my birthday, I like to imagine people eating ripe peaches over their sinks, juice sliding down their arms, all over the Midwest.

A Last Slice of Summer - Quote

It’s peaches and cream, yes, but the scent of the rose combined with its cousin, the peach, creates a sensory rush, making you feel like you can smell all the peaches ever grown.

I love the immediacy of peaches: When they’re ready, they’re ready right now, and if you need to eat six of them and call it lunch, listen, I don’t make the rules. Maybe it helps that I’ve picked peaches with my dad nearly every summer since I was little. He’s a former farm kid with a nose for u-pick spots and does not come to play. He’s not here for your wine tasting or your rides in a hay truck. He’s here for bushels upon bushels of peaches for canning and pie (or, later, apples for applesauce and, you guessed it, pie).

But like the rest of us, our peaches have had a rough year. Back in the spring, right around the tune we started isolating in our homes, I remember thinking, hey, at least the worst of winter was over. I was wrong, but I wouldn’t find out until peach season.

One cool spring night, a very rude and very late frost visited the region, crippling many spring and summer crops. Cut to our annual peach pick, the weekend before my birthday. After a dozen or so calls to our standbys, we learned the late frost had nearly wiped out the crop. The cruel irony for farmers this year is that that u-pick demand is booming as people look for things to do outdoors, yet farms are reporting fruit shortages and staffing issues, with some older farmers needing to step back from operations this year because of health concerns, or even confirmed cases in the family.

In fact, some of the folks we spoke with frankly recommended that we either visit longtime competitors of theirs or look for good deals at the local supermarket. I could scarcely imagine how hard it was to say those things, after the decades of backbreaking work required to establish, grow, and sustain a fruit farm. Farming is hard, but as we’ve been learning each year, as our planet has been getting a fraction of a degree warmer, it’s also vulnerable and delicate work.

So, I’m eating peaches with more reverence these days. In this disastrous year, it feels wrong to process the precious fruit beyond a quick twist to pop out the pit, so to celebrate what peaches I could find on my birthday, I kept them as close to their final form as possible. They took a short nap in a tiny pool of rosewater and sugar, and then I tucked them in with a slump of barely whipped cream. It’s peaches and cream, yes, but the scent of the rose combined with its cousin, the peach, creates a sensory rush, making you feel like you can smell all the peaches ever grown. Or maybe it’s just my theory about fruit smells and babies, and that fragrance blew in from Michigan and across Chicago on the night I was born.

Rosy Peaches in Cream

Serves 4

Ingredients
4 ripe, freestone peaches
2 tbsp. sugar, divided
1 tsp. rosewater
1 cup cold heavy cream
Tiniest pinch of salt (1/8 tsp. or less)

Preparation
Cut the peaches in half and gently pop out the pits. Slice into 6-8 wedges per half, depending on how big the peaches are.

In a medium bowl, combine the peaches, 1 tbsp. of the sugar, and the rosewater. Stir gently to coat the peaches. Cover and refrigerate for at least 2 hours, stirring after an hour to redistribute the juices.

In a large mixing bowl, whip the cream with a wire whisk until it has thickened and the whisk leaves a trail through it, about 3 minutes, depending on your arm strength and how many breaks you take. Add the remaining tbsp. sugar and the very tiny bit of salt. Continue whipping until soft peaks form, just another minute or so. (You can do this on medium or medium-high speed on a stand mixer, too. Just be careful not to overwhip. You’re looking for slumpy, sleepy whipped cream.)

Divide the peaches and the whipped cream among four bowls, or spread the whipped cream on a small platter and layer the peaches on top to serve family-style.

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