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Peaches are here and ready to eat

Kevin Huffman’s peach orchard is at its peak, loaded with golden fruit ready for the public. When Huffman removed his declining orchard a few years ago, many concluded he was out of business. Fortunately, this year he has a full crop on a nearby orchard that has the best peaches produced in years.

Quite often, peach crops can be sparse with few or no appreciable crop due to unseasonable weather. Ironically, lack of cold weather (chilling hours) is a serious problem for commercial peach producers in South Carolina and Georgia.

Many high-quality peach varieties must have more than 1,000 hours of cold temperatures below 40 degrees before the trees will set fruit. Peach trees are also short-lived as compared to other tree types and must be constantly replaced by growers every 12-15 years.

A good year for peaches doesn’t necessarily mean they are easy to maintain. In fact, peaches are the most difficult of all tree fruits to produce. Peach trees must be pruned annually and continuously sprayed from flowering until a few days before harvest to keep them pest free and prevent fruit rot.

Peach brown rot, the most common fruit disease, is rampant during hot, humid conditions often experienced during the summer. Home orchardists consistently complain most about this problem which causes the fruit to rot just before harvest.

Huffman has extended his peach season with 1,100 trees in a staggered orchard consisting of 18 different varieties.  Different varieties offer different flavors, flesh-types and maturity dates during the growing season, providing season constant availability.

Contender is a very popular variety, however newer peach varieties including white-fleshed peaches will be picked almost every day at Huffman’s until Labor Day.

Pre-picked peaches from the grower often seem to be hard. To soften peaches, place the fruit in a paper bag, fold the top over loosely and keep it at room temperature for one to three days. Be sure to check the fruit daily. Never use a plastic bag because it may cause decay and can produce off-flavors.

Once the fruit is soft, or ripe, it can be stored in the refrigerator for a week or more. Never place firm, or unripe, fruit in the refrigerator as it may inhibit the ripening process and can cause the fruit to become dry, mealy and flavorless.

Huffman Peach and Produce Farm is located at 4825 Goodman Lake road, 1 1/2 miles off Bringle Ferry Road, approximately 6 miles from center of Salisbury. The peach stand is open 9 a.m.-6 p.m. or until they sell out. You may want to contact Huffman by phone at 704-637-6762 for availability.

Peaches are also available locally at retail outlets and farmers markets. Take advantage and enjoy these beautiful tasty jewels. They are going fast.

When you have peaches, you need to eat them quickly. Here are some ideas:

Peach Dumplings

2 cans crescent rolls

16 peach slices (about 3 peaches)

1 1/2 stick butter

1 1/4 cup sugar

2 tsp. vanilla extract

Ground cinnamon

1 can lemon-lime soda

Extra butter, for pan

Open the crescent rolls and separate along perforations. Place a slice of peach on the wide end and roll each slice up in the dough.

Place in a buttered 9-by-13-inch pan.

Melt butter and add sugar and barely stir. Add vanilla, stir one or twice, then pour the entire mix over the peaches rolled in crescent dough. Pour three-quarters of a can of Sprite, 7-Up or another lemon-lime soda around the edges and in the middle of the pan. Sprinkle with cinnamon and bake at 350 degrees for 40 minutes.

Remove pan from oven and let it sit for 10 minutes. Serve the dumplings with some of the sauce from the pan and whipped cream or ice cream.

Easy Peach Cobbler

5 peaches, peeled, cored and sliced (about 4 cups)

3/4 cup granulated sugar

1/4 tsp. salt

6 Tbsp. butter

1 cup all-purpose flour

1 cup granulated sugar

2 tsp. baking powder

1/4 tsp. salt

3/4 cup milk

Ground cinnamon

Add the sliced peaches, sugar and salt to a saucepan and stir to combine. Cook on medium heat for just a few minutes, until the sugar is dissolved and helps to bring out juices from the peaches. Remove from hear and set aside.

Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Slice butter into pieces and add to a 9-by-13-inch baking dish. Place the pan in the oven while it preheats, to allow the butter to melt. Once melted, remove the pan from the oven.

In a large bowl, mix together the flour, sugar, baking powder and salt. Stir in the milk until just combined. Pour the mixture into the pan over the melted butter and smooth into an even layer.

Spoon the peaches and their juice over the batter. Sprinkle cinnamon over the top.

Bake at 350 for about 40 minutes. Serve warm with a scoop of ice cream or whipped cream.

Grilled Peaches with Sweet Mascarpone

6 peaches, sliced

Canola oil

1/2 cup almond slices (garnish)

8 ounces mascarpone cheese

1 Tbsp. maple syrup

1 Tbsp. honey

1 tsp. vanilla extract

In a small bowl mix mascarpone cheese (usually found in a small tub in the cheese section), with maple syrup, honey and vanilla extract. Set aside.

Heat grill to medium high heat or use a stovetop grill pan.

Brush peaches with canola oil. Place flesh side of peaches down on grill or grill pan. Cook for 2-3 minutes until grill marks are visible.

Serve each peach half with a tablespoon of the mascarpone mixture and a sprinkling of almond slices.

Peach and Tomato Salad

1/4 cup thinly sliced onion

1/2 pound ripe peaches, pitted and cut into wedges

1/4 pound heirloom tomatoes, cut into thick wedges

1/4 pound heirloom cherry or pear tomatoes, halved

1 Tbsp. sherry vinegar

1 1/2 tsp. extra-virgin olive oil

1 tsp. honey

1/8 tsp. salt

1/8 tsp. black pepper

1/4 cup crumbled feta cheese

2 Tbsp. torn basil leaves

Combine first four ingredients in a large bowl.

Combine vinegar, oil, honey, salt and pepper in a small bowl and whisk together. Pour over the peaches and tomatoes. Sprinkle with cheese and basil.

Can substitute goat cheese or blue cheese for the feta. Can use red wine vinegar instead of sherry vinegar.

Baked Peach Chicken

4 boneless, skinless chicken breasts or thighs

2 shallots, thinly sliced

2 Tbsp. olive oil

1 garlic clove, minced

1/2 cup dry white wine

1/2 cup low-sodium chicken broth

4 large peaches, peeled and cut into eighths

1/4 tsp. nutmeg

Salt and freshly ground pepper

Fresh basil or mint for finishing

In a large skillet, heat the olive oil over medium high heat, season the chicken with salt and pepper and brown the chicken on all sides. Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Place browned chicken in an 8-by-8-baking dish, set aside. Cook the shallot in the same pan until softened. Drain most of the fat and add garlic, peaches, wine and broth. Cook five minutes until juices begin to bubble. Stir in nutmeg. Pour over the chicken. Bake, covered, for about 25 minutes, until chicken is done. Check with an instant read thermometer. After 15 minutes, remove cover and allow to brown slightly and thicken sauce.

Serve over rice, noodles, quinoa or baby spinach. Garnish with torn basil or mint leaves.

Peach Sangria

1 bottle dry rosé, chilled

2 cups sliced peaches

1/4 cup sugar

1/2 cup vodka

2 tsp. lemon juice

Slice peaches into a medium-sized bowl. Sprinkle with 1/4 cup sugar and 2 tsp. lemon juice, stir gently and allow the juice to develop. Chill a large pitcher and slice one additional peach.

Pour the dry rose in the pitcher, along with the vodka and carefully add the peaches and all the juice from the bowl. Chill at least 1 hour for flavors to develop, but overnight is even better. Garnish each glass with a slice of the additional peach and serve.

Darrell Blackwelder deblackw@ncsu.edu is the retired horticulture agent with the North Carolina Cooperative Extension Service in Rowan County.

Salisbury Post food editor Deirdre Parker Smith contributed to this story.

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