The Curious Peach

We broke our previous greed record yesterday by consuming all of the peaches, bought at a farmers’ market on Sunday, that were supposed to last the week. Yum. So I thought I’d talk about peaches.

Peaches have been around for a long, long time, from China to Europe via the Silk Road, to America in the seventeenth century and into commercial production here in the nineteenth century. There were peaches at Pemberley:

The next variation which their visit afforded was produced by the entrance of servants with cold meat, cake, and a variety of all the finest fruits in season; but this did not take place till after many a significant look and smile from Mrs. Annesley to Miss Darcy had been given, to remind her of her post. There was now employment for the whole party; for though they could not all talk, they could all eat; and the beautiful pyramids of grapes, nectarines, and peaches soon collected them round the table. Pride and Prejudice

Back to early times, the Romans regarded peaches as a good mix with the savory (I’ve broiled pork chops with smushed up peaches, wine, and mint in my more carnivorous days and they were great). Here’s a recipe from Apicius, a collection of 4th- 5th century AD recipes which might be terrific. I don’t know … the Romans really loved their fish sauce, but really, fish sauce? Try at your own risk, Sister Mairi Jeanโ€™s Peaches in Cumin Sauce.

Jumping forward a few centuries–people like me should take note that King John of England died in 1216, some say from overindulging in peaches at a banquet nine days before. Here’s a recipe from 1597 for Peach Marmalade.

To make drie Marmelet of Peches.
Take your Peaches and pare them and cut them from the stones, and mince them very finely and steepe them in rosewater, then straine them with rosewater through a course cloth or Strainer into your Pan that you will seethe it in, you must have to every pound of peches halfe a pound of suger finely beaten, and put it into your pan that you do boile it in, you must reserve out a good quantity to mould your cakes or prints withall, of that Suger, then set your pan on the fire, and stir it til it be thick or stiffe that your stick wil stand upright in it of it self, then take it up and lay it in a platter or charger in prety lumps as big as you wil have the mould or printes, and when it is colde print it on a faire boord with suger, and print them on a mould or what know or fashion you will, & bake in an earthen pot or pan upon the embers or in a feate cover, and keep them continually by the fire to keep them dry. The Second Part of the Good Hus-wives Jewell, (1597); Thomas Dawson. From

I couldn’t find a whole lot about peach recipes in England in the Regency period. There’s a possibility that quinces were more popular than peaches, according to (great pics here!). A lot of the historic recipes I did find were of the use them up quick variety and/or preserve them and if you’ve ever visited a pick your own orchard you’ll know exactly what I mean.

Closer to our own time, Thomas Jefferson embraced peach cultivation with enthusiasm, growing thirty-eight varieties at Monticello, compared to only two varieties at Washington’s Mount Vernon. Jefferson made mobby, an alcoholic drink from peaches, claiming that “20 bushels of peaches will make 75 galls. of mobby, i.e. 5/12 of its bulk” (The Fruits and Fruit Trees of Monticello. Peter J. Hatch).

I’m fascinated by the wealth of varieties of peaches. Peaches are peaches, right? Unless they’re white peaches or doughnut peaches, which do have distinctive flavors. William Cobbett commented, “It is curious enough that people in general think little of the sort in the case of peaches though they are so choice in the case of apples. A peach is a peach, it seems, though I know no apples between which there is more difference than there is between different sorts of peaches.” (Quoted in Hatch, above).

Here are a couple of recipes from The Virginia Housewife by Mary Randolph, first published in 1825:

Peaches in Brandy. Get yellow soft peaches, perfectly free from defect and newly gathered, but not too ripe; place them in a pot, and cover them with cold weak lye; turn over those that float frequently, that the lye may act equally on them; at the end of an hour take them out, wipe them carefully with a soft cloth to get off the down and skin, and lay them in cold water; make a syrup as for the apricots, and proceed in the same manner, only scald the peaches more.

Peach Marmalade. Take the ripest soft peaches, (the yellow ones make the prettiest marmalade,) pare them, and take out the stones; put them in the pan with one pound of dry light coloured brown sugar to, two of peaches: when they are juicy, they do not require water: with a silver or wooden spoon, chop them with the sugar; continue to do this, and let them boil gently till they are a transparent pulp, that will be a jelly when cold. Puffs made of this marmalade are very delicious.

And here’s a Peach Pudding recipe from later in the century, adapted from Recipes Tried and True, compiled by the Ladies’ Aid Society of the First Presbyterian Church, Marion, Ohio, 1894.

peaches, cooked and sweetened
pint sweet milk
4 eggs
1 cup sugar
1 Tablespoon butter
a little salt
1 teaspoon baking powder
2 cups flour

Fill a pudding dish with peaches, cooked and sweetened; pour over them a batter made of one pint of sweet milk, four eggs, one cup of sugar, one tablespoon of butter, a little salt, one teaspoon of baking powder, and two cups of flour. Place in oven, and bake until a rich brown. Serve with cream.

The title of this post, by the way is from Andrew Marvell. I do love the phrase “stumbling on melons”, and if I’d discovered these lines sooner I might have blogged about melons:

The nectarine, and curious peach,
Into my hands themselves do reach;
Stumbling on melons, as I pass,
Ensnared with flowers, I fall on grass

What are your favorite peach recipes? Do share! I’m off downstairs where a bowl of fresh peaches awaits…

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10 years ago

Peach jam, which is peach syrup if you use too many peaches. ๐Ÿ™‚

Kate Dolan
10 years ago

I am not in danger of dying from eating too many fresh peaches. When we were kids, some business associates of my dad’s sent us six crates of peaches every summer and so anytime we said we were hungry, mom said “eat a peach.” She did make lots of peach pies and so that’s probably my favorite peach dish. One year we made peach daquiris and those were pretty popular, too.

Janet Mullany
10 years ago

I made a batch of peach jam once, Judy, in a kitchen that had a toilet leaking into it. Somehow, although I managed to avoid the drips, I never really felt like eating that jam or giving it away for xmas. I left it in the basement of the house when we moved. Peach syrup is excellent stuff.

Janet Mullany
10 years ago

All sounds good, Kate. I made peach cobblers when I had a surfeit because it’s less messing around than with pies, and sometimes I’d just slice them up, put them in freezer bags and freeze them. The consistency was bad but they kept all their flavor for emergency cobblers later. But then I consider any dessert an emergency that must be dealt with immediately.

Amanda McCabe/Laurel McKee

Mmm, peaches! i could live off them this time of year. Maybe I should try and follow some of these recipes and see what happens, when i am feeling brave ๐Ÿ™‚

10 years ago

I put up spiced peaches a couple of years. They are served in our relish tray. They are also good diced up and served with a bit of the juice over vanilla ice cream.

I love making pies and Peach pie a la mode is a favorite.

Peach cobbler is a favorite to make in a dutch oven when we are camping.

Elena Greene
10 years ago

I haven’t done much with peaches before but now I’m tempted. That peach pudding sounds good! Once the workmen are out of the house maybe I’ll hit a farmer’s market and get some.

Janet Mullany
10 years ago

I think you could make the 1894 recipe with raw peaches and a bit of sugar because you really want it to become a soggy gorgeous peachy mess.

10 years ago

There is a Mediterranean restaurant in Washington called Zaytinya, and I had the simplest but most delicious peach dessert there a few weeks ago. They marinated fresh peaches in a dessert wine, cut them in small pieces, sprinkled them with finely chopped pistachios, and then topped that with Greek yogurt. It was incredibly smooth and delicious, with the tart yogurt setting off the sweet peaches and the liqueur providing a slight kick, and a perfect end to a summer dinner.

Karen H in NC
10 years ago

My mother would try to can peaches when they were in season. IMO, there is nothing like a home-canned peach…so much better than the commercially canned fruit. Anyway, she would make peach syrup by boiling the peach skins and pits in water. After removing the skins and pits, she would mix in simple syrup and continue to cook for a while longer. She would then pour the syrup in canning jars and process for long term storage. But she always kept a jar out so we could have it on thin Swedish pancakes that evening for dinner. Nothing like homemade peach syrup! I made it myself for my kids when they were still at home…haven’t made it for years though. Talking about it makes me hungry for it now.

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