There’s nothing like biting into a ripe, juicy peach. Slurping and licking your way around the fruit is a great treat in itself. Sink your teeth into the soft flesh, munch on the soft, mottled skin that gives way to the golden-yellow or pale-pink interior. The initial tang of the juice melds with the rounded sweetness of the meat and the aroma of the fruit. Navigate around the craggy pit and chomp down on the ruby red center until every bit of the drupe is gone.

Life’s a peach and then you pie.

’Tis the season for peaches in North Carolina. While the harvest runs May through August, this is the only time when peaches are celebrated nationally: National Peach Month, National Peach Day and National Peach Pie Day all fall during the 8th month of the year. It’s like a season finale wrap party.

Peaches are a member of the rose family right alongside apples, pears, almonds, apricots and plums. These flowering trees also include nectarines, which are similar to peaches genetically but have a recessive gene that deletes the soft, fuzzy coating, lik a sleek velour suit that covers this voluptuous globe of nature’s bounty.

“Simply put, peaches are fuzzy and nectarines are not,” explains Anna-Beth Williams, agricultural extension agent of NC Cooperative Extension in Guilford County.

“Nectarines have a smooth skin,” she says. “They are typically more aromatic but also more susceptible to diseases.”

“Simply put, peaches are fuzzy and nectarines are not,” explains Anna-Beth Williams, agricultural extension agent of NC Cooperative Extension in Guilford County. (photo by Sayaka Matsuoka)

Peaches are the only crop in North Carolina that are grown to go directly to the consumer. The largest availability of varieties in our area include Contender, Winblow, Norman, Sun Prince; nectarine varieties include Summer Beaut, Carolina Red and Fantasia

The pits can be freestone or clingstone.  The free stone falls easily away from the flesh while the cling stone pit stays stuck to the flesh. Both can be interchanged in cooking.

Store peaches on the counter, stem side down, in a single layer  to prevent the fruit from touching or bruising. Peaches produce a natural plant hormone called ethylene, which hastens the ripening process. You can also store very ripe peaches in a sealed container or bag in the refrigerator  Keep in mind this can dehydrate the fruit and cause shriveling.

Vincent Webb Jr, a family and consumer science assistant agent at NC Cooperative Extension, offers up advice on preserving fruit.

“The goal of food preservation is to preserve the food that is in season so that we have food when we need it later,” he says,” and so that we can enjoy that food year-round.”

Food preservation, when done properly and safely, prevents spoilage as well as microorganism growth. 

But in my opinion, the best way to preserve peaches is to add them to ice cream.

Peach ice cream anyone? (photo by Sayaka Matsuoka)

No-Churn Peach Ice Cream

Makes 8 Servings

Ingredients 

  • 2 cups peaches, diced
  • 3 tablespoons salted butter
  • 3 tablespoons light brown sugar
  • 1 tsp vanilla
  • 1 cup heavy cream
  • 7 ounces sweetened condensed milk (1/2 of 14 oz. can)

Place peaches, butter, brown sugar into a large skillet over medium heat. Cook and stir for 5 minutes, until peaches are softened and fragrant. Remove from heat and set aside to cool to room temperature.

Meanwhile, add vanilla and heavy cream to a mixing bowl. Whip until soft peaks form. The cream should fold over itself when the beater is raised out of the bowl.

Pour sweetened condensed milk into the mixing bowl with the soft whipped cream, stir to combine. Gently fold in peaches to sweetened whipped cream. Transfer to temperature-proof container and cover tightly. Freeze overnight, until ice cream is firm. Serve as desired.

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