It's nice to have goals to work towards; it's even better when they begin as fantasies of perfection. Picking the perfect peach is one such goal whose roots begin in our collective imagination. But the perfect peach, with its custardy sweetness and scent that smells like sugar and sun, isn't so much fantasy as it is elusive. They do exist, however, and you can find them, but like most hidden treasure, you have to know when and where to look, and you have to be a little patient.
Picking the perfect peach is an exercise in your senses. So much of it may seem obvious once it's gathered in one place but, these choices desire to become habits, and soon second nature. So the next time you go the market to buy your peach, lift it to your nose for a deep drag of its scent and a gentle squeeze along the way, all while taking measure of its yellow color and rosy flush. Learn this choreography of picking the perfect peach by heart, and you can do the dance of picking the perfect peach all summer long.
The Perfect Peach Is a Ripe Peach
There's a degree of objectivity that makes this conversation about perfection easy to have because we can all agree that the perfect peach is a ripe peach. Idiosyncratic preferences for crunchy peaches, or those so ripe they're on the verge of collapse are outliers, so we shall leave them where they are, on the edges. A ripe peach smells sugary, like a juicy white wine mixed with a generous swirl of honey. They're soft, but never mushy, and they taste just like they smell: custardy, honeyed, and sweet. A ripe peach has come to embody what the word ripe looks like. They have a uniform yellow-orange background with splashes of reds and pinks painting the surface. Together, all these factors make for the perfectly ripe peach. I like that this understanding is a place for us all to find common ground.
The Season for Perfect Peaches
The perfect peach comes with its share of strong opinions and most of them begin with where to find then. Georgia has always been one of the loudest voices in the conversation about when peaches are ripe, but the fact is that when Georgia peaches are ripe then Georgia peaches are good. And the same goes for the peaches that are good in New Jersey and California and New York. The season for peaches begins as early as May and can linger on until September. Buy peaches where you are waiting for them to be good. You'll know it's time because people will begin to talk about it. It might even make the news. Rainfall, sunny days, humidity, and cool nights all play a factor. So as it is in life, it's so with peaches. Time is an inescapable factor for getting things just right — and in this case, just ripe as well.
A Sense of Intelligence
The peach is a sensual fruit. It appeals to all five of them, and probably all the ones we haven't named. Here is how to use your senses to pick a perfect fruit.
- Smell: What comes first, sight or smell? Sometimes, nothing beckons you to a stand of peaches like the scent of them. The sight of a pyramid of peaches, all sunny and pink can be just as captivating. The smell isn't something you have to teach. There's something innate about knowing when one smells ripe. The look of a ripe peach, however, requires some instruction.
- Sight: Ripe peaches have a rich yellow background that practically glows. Look for uniformity and density of color. As for the blush of peach on your peach, that's the result of the caress of the sun. It's lovely to look at, but it's not an indicator that your peach is ripe. Nevertheless, you should pay attention to it because it will lead you to the perfect first bite. The bite opposite the stem, where the blush is most pronounced, is rumored to be the sweetest. Do try it out and report back.
- Touch: Codifying the feel of a ripe peach is where things grow a little nebulous. The soft give that indicates a peach is ripe can change in a matter of hours depending on the temperature and proximity to other fruit. Your best bet is to begin with fruit that is ripe on the tree. You can assure this is the case by asking about it, looking for signage, or simply going to an orchard and picking the fruit from the tree yourself. From there, reaching the right touch, is a dance of time and careful observation. For eating out of hand, pick a peach that gives just the slightest when gently squeezed. Go about it like this is the most precious thing you've ever handled. Peaches are sensitive things. They take offense when handled with hostility and bruise easily. If you find yourself with underripe peaches, you can soften them. If you're in a rush the paper bag trick is a speedy solution. You can go the slow and measured route, by putting the peaches to bed, shoulder down, under a blanket of breathable towels for a day or so until they reach your desired softness.
Peach Variety as a Guide for Perfection
There are margins for ripeness and perfection when it comes to peaches, but the subtlety of flavor is managed best by choosing a variety that works for you. Yellow peaches do not taste the same as white peaches and neither taste like doughnut peaches. So in order to pick a perfect peach you have to know what variety is right for you. With that in mind, we did some exploring to figure out the nuances of different varieties. Knowing some intel about each will help you in your endeavor of perfection.
Feel Peachy Keen?
Here's what you need to read, what to cook, and how to eat all those perfect peaches while they're ripe and ready for the picking.