The local peaches are perfect right now. Whether you prefer a white peach—usually very sweet, but less acidic and to some people’s tastes not intensely peachy enough—or a yellow, with its richer combination of sweet and tang, both are juicy and good to eat. Select peaches that are fragrant (they should smell like peaches), free of bruises, velvety-fuzzy (a smooth-skinned peach is a nectarine, and a flat-napped one is either over-bred or over-the-hill), and that yield slightly to gentle pressure; keep these delicate fruits separate from your other shopping or they will be the worse for wear by the time you get them home. Use ripe peaches promptly, or leave them at room temperature in a shady spot or in a paper bag if they are not quite ripe when you buy them. In any case, avoid refrigeration.
In addition to eating peaches out of hand, slicing them over your morning cereal, or serving them with cream and a tad of brown sugar, peaches lend themselves to all kinds of drinks (the famous Bellini, for example), desserts (the equally famous Peach Melba or iconic peach ice cream), summer preserving, and baking. They are closely associated with Southern cooking, so what better use to put a juicy fresh peach than as part of a Southern-style ladies’ luncheon? This was the happy thought of my long-time friend and neighbor, Anne Simon, an outstanding cook and even better baker. (That is Anne and me in the photo at right.) Anne is an inveterate entertainer, to my frequent benefit and perennial gratitude. What a treat for me to attend an event like this where not only do I have to do absolutely nothing, but the food is just right. In this case, I even got to put my two cents into the menu. Here is what we had:
Frozen Mint JulepsEverything was wonderful, but a few items were extra-fine. Anne’s rolls are, in my opinion, the best of their genre, made all the more delicious by being accompanied by an intense, deep pink butter made from her homemade strawberry jam—you will recall that this year’s strawberries were extra-good, and by extension, so was her jam. The cake—well, the photo speaks for itself: beautiful, high, tender, with an elegant pale pink buttercream made with a puree of fresh local raspberries. And the cornbread was sublime. Anne loves the combination of corn and blueberry, a preference that I share, and the addition of the juicy local peaches, which she felt she simply must use, makes this bread satisfyingly moist and special. Here is her recipe, edited slightly:
Iced Tea, Wine
Chicken Salad in Butter Lettuce Cups
Pickled Shrimp with New Onions
Sliced Tomatoes and Avocados with Corn and Basil Oil
(Anne’s Spectacular) Soft Dinner Rolls, Strawberry Butter
Fresh Peach and Blueberry Cornbread
White Layer Cake with Raspberry Buttercream
Anne’s Peach and Blueberry Cornbread
In doing this blog, one of the things I had to get used to was measuring everything so that I could provide you with a workable recipe. In sending me this, Anne notes: “the exact measurement of the fruit is hard to say for sure. Sometime I throw in extra cornmeal if I think that things look too wet.” So experiment a little with the wet/dry balance; next time, Anne will measure exactly, and I'll report back, but in the meantime use your judgment.
1 ¼ cups all-purpose flour
1 cup stoneground jonnycake corn meal
½ cup sugar
2 tea baking powder
½ tea baking soda
½ tea salt
¼ lb butter (1 stick)
1 cup buttermilk
2 large eggs
1 cup, approx, coarsely chopped fresh peaches, skin on
1 cup fresh blueberries
1 ear sweet corn, kernels cut off and the cob scraped to release the corn milk
Preheat the oven to 350 F. Butter an 8” square pan and coat generously with corneal; a pie pan can also be used.
In a food processor with the metal blade, cut the butter into the flour, cornmeal, sugar, baking powder, baking soda, and salt until it is no longer visible.
In a large bowl, beat the eggs, and beat the buttermilk in until well-blended. Add to this bowl, without mixing yet, about half the dry ingredient/butter mixture, all of the fruit, then the remaining half of the dry ingredient/butter mixture; this gives the fruit a coating of flour before it hits the wet ingredients. Now gently mix just long enough to lightly incorporate the fruit, dry, and wet ingredients; if the batter seems too liquid-y, add additional cornmeal a few tablespoons at a time.
Pour the batter into the prepared pan, and bake approximately 30 minutes.
Party photos courtesy of Anne’s father, the talented Frank Parker, owner of Bookstand World.