Make your August just peachy

It’s not easy to grow a peach. But they are now finally in season, even in New England.

As a child growing up, I would anxiously await the annual peach crop over the course of the summer as it made its way up the east coast from Georgia (the peach tree state) to New Jersey (then calling itself the “garden state”) up into New York and finally to my home town in New England.

When out for a drive, my Dad would point out the peach blossoms on the trees and later we’d come back with bushels from the roadside stands. It was like coming home with a little treasure chest.

Even today, you can’t always get fresh peaches just anytime you want them. Last winter in Florida — where they grow every other kind of fruit, vegetable, and spice — I couldn’t find peaches, nectarines, apricots, or plums for weeks at a time in the local grocery stores.

But when they are in season, it’s well worth stocking your fruit bowl with all variety of peaches and nectarines. (Peaches and nectarines are the same species of fruit, although the latter variety is absent the peach fuzz. There is also a flattened variety called donut or Saturn peaches, as well as sweet white and yellow varieties.)

These fruits have very few calories, despite their sweet flavor. Plus, they’re high in fiber and vitamins A and C. The vitamin A comes from carotenoids, which give peaches their bright yellow, orange, and red colors, just like the leaves on the trees which will start turning later next month. Researchers at Texas A & M University found that peaches and nectarines also contain phytochemicals that may help reduce inflammation and prevent obesity.

Add some sweet peaches to your table

Peaches can add a lot of interest and flavor to your late summer kitchen. Of course, they are perfect anytime, simply eaten out of hand. You can also add them to many different types of dishes, not just desserts.

You can cut peaches in half and grill them. Use a small paring knife to cut through the peach to the pit, then gently twist and open the halves in your hands. Gently pry the peach pit out of the center using the sharp end of the knife. Slice and place on a grill until hash marks appear. Turn over halfway.

You can also use fresh peaches seared on the grill to make fruit kabobs, together with strawberries, plums, pineapple, and watermelon chunks.

You can even make a tangy relish or salsa by roughly dicing the grilled fruit. Mix it with diced red onions, cilantro, lime juice, and jalapeno or other spicy pepper. You can also add peaches to pasta to make a zesty summer dish.

Peaches also make a nice addition to white or red wine sangria — together with pineapple, lemon, lime, and a little triple sec. You can also keep it simple, as the Italians do, by simply adding a few thin slices to your red or white wine at the bottom of the glass.

Make a refreshing, healthy snack by freezing chopped peaches with orange juice and regular Greek yogurt in small paper cups. Freeze for half an hour, then insert wooden popsicle sticks and return to the freezer.

You can cook ripe peaches with lemon or lime juice to make jars of peach preserve to enjoy out of season. Or bake them to make a peach crisp or cobbler, or even add some peaches in your blender to make a “smoothie.”

Pick your own peaches to feel “peachy”

As I explained last week, just the act of harvesting fruit or vegetables can prompt the release of serotonin, the feel-good neurotransmitter, and improve your mood. It’s called the “harvest high.”

So if you don’t have a peach tree in your yard, try visiting a pick-your-own peach farm this month. Look for fruit that’s round, firm and free from bruising — which compromises flavor and texture.

In my view, peaches and nectarines taste best when they’re allowed to ripen on the tree. However, commercial growers often pick, transport and sell unripe peaches to prevent bruising and prolong shelf life.

Some grocery stores offer clearly marked fruit that is already ripe. Some supermarket chains call already ripened fruit “orchard perfect.” You should eat these fruits immediately or at least within 24 hours.

Otherwise, keep unripe fruit in a basket at room temperature to eat in coming days; or keep in refrigerator for a couple weeks. You can also rapidly ripen hard fruit by storing it in a paper bag at room temperature. When already ripe, store in the refrigerator.

And remember, peaches will be gone again soon, so enjoy them now, while you can. They’ll make your August healthier, and…well… “just peachy.”