Blackberries or blueberries can be substituted for the raspberries in the Barefoot Contessa's Peach-Raspberry Crisp.

Summer the time for best-tasting peaches

A few years ago I visited a peach orchard in south Georgia just after Independence Day. The sun beat down on the remaining fruit , filling the air with the scent of peaches.

Not many peaches were left. The orchard had been stripped by visitors who planned to celebrate the Fourth with peach ice cream, and who knew that peach season was almost over in that part of the state. You’ve got to move fast to get peaches while they’re at their peak.

In North Georgia, peach season lasts until late August. Crops shipped from other states like California extend the season a bit more.

For the best-tasting peaches, though, there’s no time like summer. Peaches are harvested ripe, shipped a short distance, or sold at farmers’ markets just a day or so off the tree.

So for the past week, I’ve been cooking through a box of July Prince peaches. Peach crisp. Peach ice cream. Roast chicken with balsamic peaches. Peach chutney for the freezer. Peach and blue cheese toast. And, of course, peaches eaten out of hand, over the sink. A week before, I’d stopped at a North Georgia orchard and picked up a bag of peaches and a fried peach pie. Those peaches went into a peach blackberry cobbler with a regrettable crust, from a recipe that called for two tablespoons of vanilla and twice the sugar of most cobblers. You won’t find that recipe here, but you will find links to the ones I’ve tested that work, plus a few tips for cooking and storing peaches.

How to peel peaches: Use a serrated peeler for peeling fresh peaches. If you need to peel a large number of peaches, it’s best to blanch them and remove the skin. To do that, fill a medium or large saucepan with water, leaving enough room to add the peaches. Heat the water to boiling, then add the peaches. Remove the peaches after 30 seconds; the skins should be easy to slip off.

How to store peaches: Leave fresh peaches on the kitchen counter, out of direct sun, if they are still firm. Unripe peaches will not ripen in the refrigerator. If they are already fully ripe and slightly soft to the touch, put them in the refrigerator.

How to select peaches: Avoid peaches with green “shoulders,” the area around the stem. Try to pick peaches with yellow or red in this area.

Peach-Raspberry Crisp: Blackberries or blueberries can be substituted for the raspberries in this recipe from “The Barefoot Contessa” by Ina Garten.

Peach Chutney: This recipe makes enough to freeze two cups, and serve another. Try it with a pork loin roast, pork chops, or other roast meat.

Roast Chicken With Balsamic Peaches: Real Simple’s recipes live up to the magazine’s name. Six ingredients plus salt and pepper, 10 minutes of hands-on time, and a delicious and cheap dinner. Serve it with rice and syrupy pan juices.

Peach Ice Cream: Emily Luchetti’s “A Passion for Ice Cream” is one of my favorite sources for ice cream recipe. The pastry chef knows how to deal with the icy crystals that form in peaches, strawberries, etc., when they’re mixed into ice cream: Cook them over low heat with a little sugar, like you’re making jelly, to remove some of the water, then let thoroughly cool before mixing them into a cream base. I haven’t found a direct link to this recipe, which does not use eggs, as most peach ice creams do. But if you do a Google Book search, you can pull it up from the original cookbook. It’s paired with oat financiers in the book.

Peach Blue Cheese Toast: I tweaked a recipe from the “San Francisco Ferry Plaza Farmer’s Market Cookbooks” for this toast, which is good for breakfast or any other light meal. You can find another version online that adds honey and thyme by looking for peach blue cheese bruschetta.

Here is a recipe for one serving: Lightly toast a slice or two of coarse white bread (country-style is good). Set the broiler to low. Place toast on a cookie sheet and brush both sides lightly with olive oil. Peel one peach and slice into segments. Arrange slices over bread, then sprinkle crumbled blue cheese on top. Place under broiler for 1-2 minutes, and watch carefully to prevent the bread from charring. Serve immediately.

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