Stone fruit – Peaches, Apricots, Nectarines

S
At Chez Panisse in Berkeley in California, Alice Waters has been known to serve just a perfect peach for dessert – the perfect end to a rich and satisfying meal. This passionate restaurateur has combed the Sacramento area, the Central Valley and the Sierra foothills to link in with organic farmers and growers who still cultivate the old varieties, some are heirlooms, others like the exquisite Elberta are only 140 years old.
Peach connoisseurs scour local Farmers Markets during the stone fruit season in July and August. Commercial varieties of peach are grown in thirty states in the US but two thirds of the annual aggregate production comes from the state of California. 
Nectarines were named after the nectar consumed by the Olympian gods, the smooth-skinned fruit are actually classified as a sub-species of peach – prunus persica var.nucipersica. Peach and nectarine trees are almost indistinguishable in leaf and flower, they are only one gene apart, the one that makes peaches fuzzy. Really ripe nectarines are quite simply divine.
Apricots are the third ‘stone fruit’ of Summer, a really good variety is a wonderful thing, but when have you last tasted a delicious fresh apricot, or peach, come to think of it, nectarines are still reasonably flavourful but I’m in despair. Those little plastic baskets full of indifferent fruit at various stages of ripeness are everywhere – supposedly a bargain at €3.49 – I’d far rather have one perfect peach and pay the farmer a fair and decent price for nurturing it for me throughout the year. Problem is we no longer have a choice. The multiples have forced the farmers to abandon any variety that doesn’t travel well or pass its shelf life test, hence many of the best cultivars have been grubbed out and are relegated to the few passionate hobby growers who can afford to grow for pleasure.
However, in little pockets around the world gardeners are seeking out the old varieties of fruit and vegetables and growing them themselves. In California there is a growing demand for forgotten flavours and keen young chefs are liaising with specialist growers and highlighting heirloom varieties on their menus. We’ve had two white peach trees on the south facing wall of the cookery school dining room for a number of years, they are amazingly productive though fragile. The white peach we have is Lord Napier and Peregrine is a good outdoor yellow variety
Although the crop is not so prolific this year there will be lots for desserts and pies, we use the slightly bruised ones to make delicious white peach juice for making home-made Bellini – almost as good as Harry’s Bar in Venice and one doesn’t have to take out a second mortgage. If you have a warm south-facing wall make a note now to remind yourself to plant a peach, apricot or nectarine in the Autumn. 
Recommended reading – 
Jane Grigson’s Fruit Book – Penguin
Chez Panisse Fruit – by Alice Waters – Harper Collins
Bob Flowerdew’s Complete Fruit Book - Kyle Cathie Ltd
And The Complete Book of Vegetables, Herbs and Fruit by Bob Flowerdew, Jekka McVicar and Matthew Biggs – Kyle Cathie Ltd.

Californian Three-stone Pie

This pastry is made by the creaming method so people who are convinced that they suffer from 'hot hands' don't have to worry about rubbing in the butter.
Serves 8-12

Break all the rules pastry

350g (12oz) butter
75g (3oz) castor sugar
3 eggs, preferably free range
500g (18oz) white flour, preferably unbleached
Filling
1kg (2¼lb) stone fruit - apricots, peaches and nectarines, mixed
225g (8oz) sugar
3tablespoons flour or cornflour

Castor sugar for sprinkling

To Serve
Softly whipped cream or crème fraîche

tin, 10 inches (25.5cm) x 12 inches (30.5cm) x ½ inch (1cm) deep

Preheat the oven to 180°C/350°F/regulo 4.

First make the pastry. Cream the butter and sugar together by hand or in a food mixer (no need to over cream). Add the eggs and beat for a minute or two. Reduce speed to lowest setting and mix in the flour. Turn out onto a piece of floured greaseproof paper, flatten into a round wrap and chill. This pastry needs to be chilled for at least 1 hour otherwise it is difficult to handle. 
To make the tart
Stone and slice the fruit into a bowl, sprinkle with sugar and flour and toss well.
Roll out the pastry 1/8 inch (3mm) thick approx., and use about 2/3 of it to line a suitable tin. Fill the sugared fruit into the tart. Cover with a lid of pastry, seal edges, decorate with peach shapes and pastry leaves. Egg wash and bake in the preheated oven until the fruit is tender and juicy, approx. 45 minutes to 1 hour. 
When cooked cut into squares, sprinkle lightly with castor sugar and serve with softly whipped cream or crème fraîche.

Fresh Apricot Tart

This is my version of a tart I first tasted when I was a rather reluctant au pair in Besançon many years ago, its now one of our favourites. Apples, pears, gooseberries, rhubarb and plums are also good and the custard could be flavoured with a little cinnamon instead of vanilla if you wish to ring the changes.

Serves 10-12

Pastry
225g (8oz) plain flour
175g (6oz) butter
Pinch of salt
2 teaspoons icing sugar
A little beaten free-range egg or egg yolk and water to bind

Apricot Glaze
6 tablespoons Apricot jam
Freshly squeezed lemon juice

Filling
8-10 fresh apricots
300ml (½ pint) cream
2 large or 3 small eggs
2 tablespoons castor sugar 
1 teaspoon pure Vanilla essence 

1 x 12 inch (30 cm) diameter tart tin or 2 x 7 inch (18cm) tart tins with removable bases

Preheat the oven to 180C/350F/regulo 4.

Make the shortcrust pastry in the usual way and leave to relax in a refrigerator for 1 hour. Roll out the pastry and line a tart tin with a removable base. Chill for 10 minutes. Line with kitchen paper and fill with dried beans. Bake blind in a preheated oven for 15-20 minutes. Remove the paper and beans. Paint the tart base with a little egg wash and return to the oven for 3 or 4 minutes. Leave to cool.
In a small stainless steel saucepan, melt the Apricot jam with a squeeze of lemon juice, push the hot jam through a sieve and then brush the base of the tart with a little of this glaze. 
Halve the apricots and remove the stones. Arrange one at a time cut side upwards inside the tart, the apricots should slightly overlap in the inside. 
Whisk the eggs well, with the sugar and Vanilla essence, then add the cream. Pour this mixture over the apricots and bake in the preheated oven for 35 minutes until the custard is set and the apricots are fully cooked. Brush generously with the Apricot glaze. Serve warm with a bowl of softly whipped cream.

Apricot Cobbler

Serves 6-8
1½ lb(700g) fresh apricots, or peaches or nectarines, or a mixture, stoned and cut into wedges (keep the juice)
5 tablesp. granulated sugar
1 tablesp. white flour
freshly grated rind of ½ lemon - optional

Cobbler:
110g (4oz) white flour
¾ teasp. baking powder
¼ teasp. bread soda
1 tablesp. castor sugar
25g (1oz) butter, cut into cubes
125ml (4fl.oz) buttermilk
1 tablesp. granulated sugar

1 x pyrex pie dish, 1.2L (2pint) capacity

Put the sliced fruit in a bowl, add the sugar and flour, freshly grated lemon rind and a tablespoon of juice, toss well and fill into a pie dish.
Preheat the oven to 400F/200C/gas mark 6.
Next make the topping.
Sieve the flour, baking powder and bread soda into a bowl, add the castor sugar. Rub in the butter and bind with buttermilk until it just comes together. Drop tablespoons of the dough over the filling, doesn’t matter if there are spaces, the dough will expand as it cooks. Sprinkle with another tablespoon of sugar.
Bake for 30-45 minutes or until puffed and golden.
Serve warm with crème fraîche or softly whipped cream.

Roasted Peaches with Honey
Gorgeous with home made Vanilla or Honey and Lavender Ice-cream
Serves 4

8 peaches
2 tablespoons honey
2 tablespoons lemon juice
25g (1oz) butter

Preheat the oven to 250C/475F/gas 9

Halve the peaches and remove the stones. Melt the butter, add in the honey and lemon juice. Spoon over the peaches and roast them in a very hot oven for 8-10 minutes.
Serve the peaches warm with softly whipped cream or crème fraiche.

Spiced Peaches or Nectarines

Serve with glazed ham or bacon
10 peaches or nectarines
1 pint stock syrup
1 stick of cinnamon
1 chilli halved and seeded
1-inch piece of ginger sliced
6 cloves
2 slices of lemon 

Cook all the above ingredients together for 10 minutes. 
Add the peaches or nectarines sliced into segments and cook covered in an oven for a further 10 minutes.

Almond Tart or Tartlets with Peaches or Nectarines

Serves 12, makes 24 tartlets of 2 x 18cm (7inch) tarts or 72 petit fours
110g (4oz) butter
110g (4oz) castor sugar
110g (4oz) ground almonds
300ml (½ pint) whipped cream
Filling
Sliced fresh peaches or nectarines (you could also use fresh raspberries or loganberries, peeled and pipped grapes or kiwi fruit) 
Garnish
Lemon balm or sweet geranium leaves

Cream butter, sugar and ground almonds together. Put a teaspoon of the mixture into 24 shallow patty tins or divide the mixture between 2 x 7 inch (18cm) sandwich tins. Bake at 180C/350F/regulo 4 for 20-30 minutes approx., or until golden brown. The tarts or tartlets will be too soft to turn out immediately, so cool for about 5 minutes before removing from tins. Do not allow to set hard or the butter will solidify and they will stick to the tins. If this happens, pop the tins back into the oven for a few minutes so the butter melts and then they will come out easily. Allow to cool on a wire rack.
Just before serving arrange the slices of peaches or nectarines on the base. Glaze with apricot glaze. (If using red fruit use red currant glaze). Decorate with rosettes of whipped cream and garnish with lemon balm or sweet geranium leaves.
Note: Use shallow tartlet tins and best quality ground almonds.


Apricot Glaze

350g (12oz) apricot jam
Juice of 3 lemon
2 tablesp. water

In a small stainless steel saucepan, melt the apricot jam with the juice of 3 lemon and 1-2 tablespoons water, enough to make a glaze that can be poured. Push the hot jam through a nylon sieve and store in a sterilised airtight jar. Reheat the glaze to melt it before using. The quantities given make a generous 300ml (½ pint) glaze.

Julia Wight’s Fresh Apricot Jam

Makes 2.7kg (6 lb) approx.
I love fresh apricot jam, it seems so luxurious to make it from the fresh fruit, this recipe was given to me by my friend Julia Wight.

1.57kg (3½ lb) whole fresh apricots to yield 1.35kg (3 lb) of fresh apricots when stoned 
1.35kg (3 lb) sugar
Juice of 2 unwaxed lemons

Halve the apricots and remove the stones, keep a few kernels to add to the finished jam.
In a large bowl layer the apricots and sugar, finishing with a layer of sugar. Leave in a cool place overnight.
Put the lemon juice in a large saucepan, add the fruit and sugar. (If the fruit is lacking in juice, you could add approx. 300ml (½ pint) water with the lemon juice). 
Bring to the boil very slowly. Make sure that the sugar has all dissolved, then simmer for 30-40 minutes, stirring occasionally.
Test for a set and allow the jam to cool slightly before potting. Add blanched and halved kernels half way through the simmering.

Foolproof food 

For your summer parties!

Peachy Fizz

300ml (10fl oz) freshly squeezed orange juice
150ml 95fl oz) Peach Schnapps
1 bottle sparkling wine
1 peach
a few raspberries
mint leaves

Mix the orange juice and peach schnapps together, add the sparkling wine at the last moment, add thin slices of peach, a few fresh raspberries and mint leaves. Pour into chilled glasses jugs, add ice if you wish.

Hot Tips

The Village Greengrocer, Castlemartyr, Co Cork – 
This shop on the N25 in Castlemartyr has now developed a cult following, Sean and Dorothy go to extraordinary lengths to provide their customers with a huge selection of local and exotic fruit and vegetables. They had Carolina nectarines and Rojo peaches – both Spanish varieties last week, and also have a new deli counter where you can buy salads, cooked meats or even have a plate made up to your choice. Tel 021- 4667655

The Apple Farm, Moorstown, Cahir, Co Tipperary – Farm shop – pick your own strawberries, apple juice, mixed strawberry and apple juice, strawberry jam, plum jam, apple jelly – all made with their own fruits and also bag in box juice. 

Forthcoming Summer Festivals with food markets–

Bray Town Festival 15-17th July – live events – free music, fireworks and a Summerfest Food Market opening on Friday – 60 stalls with something for everyone. 

JFK Dunbrody Festival – New Ross – 22-24th July
Lovely event with Food Market along quayside in New Ross with French and Irish traders. 

Mitchelstown Good Food Festival 14th August
This will be the third year of this festival which will be opened by Derek Davis – marquees with food producers, and others with food demonstrations, craft displays and children’s theatre. For information on taking a food stall contact Bill Power on 087-813611

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Darina Allen
By Darina Allen

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