Once a year I completely eschew any pretense of grace and manners and lean over the kitchen sink to gorge on fresh peaches. "Schluuuuuuuuuuuuurp!" I inhale, yet the juice still runs down my hands and chin as the perfectly sweet flesh gives up every last bit of peachy nectar.
Most fruits, with the exception of pears and very few others, do not ripen after picking. They get softer, yes, from a rather unglamorous process known as rotting. But the flavor of that fruit ceases to develop the moment it is plucked from the vine or tree. For delicate fruits such as peaches, this plucking occurs long before the flavor develops, mainly so the peach can survive being shipped a thousand miles to your grocery shelf where it softens by rotting. This explains why grocery store peaches taste a bit like mushy, peach-scented cardboard.
Unless you shop at the farmers market and peaches happen to grow in your climate. Then, you will be lucky enough to know the complex, floral sweetness that only a ripe peach can deliver. Just try not to end up hunched over the sink, greedily devouring every last sticky slurp of it.
The pleasure is fleeting with just a few short weeks of peach harvesting locally. So is the "ripe" state of peaches, which presents a few issues for a person like myself who gets a little too crazy at the farmers market and buys peaches several quarts at a time.
It's time to wipe the peach juice off my chin, wash up, and get busy in the kitchen.
8 peaches, peeled and stone removed
2 medium or 1 large cucumber
1 habenero pepper
2 tbs. balsamic vinegar (or use lemon juice if you want to make this a "raw" recipe)
1/2 tsp. salt
1/4 cup mint leaves
Slice off the green peel and a bit of the white flesh all the way around the cucumber. Dice this green part. Halve the remaining cucumber and scoop out the seeds. Place the cucumber and peaches in a blender. Wearing gloves, seed and stem the habenero. Start with just a quarter of it, adding that to the blender with the salt and balsamic vinegar.
Blend until a smooth puree. Taste for the heat level. It should be just a nice kiss of heat. Add just a bit of pepper at a time and blend until its just right. Chill at least four hours before serving. Odd, but sometimes a pepper just isn't as hot as it should be. Best to taste and adjust. The heat will intensify a tiny bit when the soup chills.
Dice the radishes and add to the diced green cucumber. Stack the mint leaves, roll and chiffonade into nice thin slivers. Toss with the cucumber mixture. Chill this separately from the soup.
Before serving, add a spoonful of the cucumber mixture to each serving of peach gazpacho. Serves 4.
Ginger Peach Sorbet
2 lbs. fresh peaches, peeled
1/2 cup honey
1/8 tsp. ground white cardamom
1/4 tsp. cinnamon
2 tsp. candied ginger
1/2 lemon, juice only
Add all ingredients to the blender and puree until smooth. Chill for 8 hours, then blend in an ice cream maker. Freeze the sorbet for a couple more hours before serving.