How do you know when summer slips into fall?

For some, it’s the changing leaves or the beginning of another school year.

For me, it’s the disappearance of summer peaches.

We are not apple and pear people. Put those puppies in a pie or crisp, and we like them fine. But to eat out of hand? We’re not big fans.

But alas, my peach. Your days are numbered. The sign outside my garden market (http://www.gegardenmarket.com/) warns me that you won’t last forever. So I snapped up two bagfuls this week, ignoring my husband’s pleas for moderation.

“What are you going to do with all those?” he asked. “Aren’t they going to go bad? I can’t eat peaches everyday.”

Oh silly man. Yes you can. And with a little creativity, you won’t even realize you are.

Peaches are easy to store. You can slice and freeze them as they are, or cook them down in a bit of simple syrup (1/2 cup water to 1/2 cup sugar), then freeze them in plastic containers for a wintertime treat.

But I can buy frozen peaches and canned peaches anytime. I want to say adieu to summer with my mouth full of fresh fruit.

Here’s what will be on our menu for the next few days:

* Spinach & peach salad: Add roughly chopped peaches to baby spinach (or arugula), toasted pecans and thinly sliced red onion. Toss with 1 tablespoon white balsamic vinegar, 2 tablespoons olive oil, salt and pepper.

* Peach soup: A riff on gazpacho. Blanch 2 1/2 pounds of peaches in boiling water for 30 seconds, then peel. Puree in a blender with 2 cups of ice cubes, a generous pinch of salt and pepper, and the juice of 2 limes. Taste and season with some sugar if you’d like. Top with julienned basil.

Fresh peach salsa

* Peach salsa: Combine chopped peaches with peeled, chopped oranges, red onion, garlic, banana peppers or jalepenos, and cilantro. Toss with 1 tablespoon each of red wine vinegar and olive oil, then season with salt and pepper.

* Peach compote: Simmer peeled, thickly sliced peaches with white wine, brown sugar, a cinnamon stick and 1 star anise. Let a nice syrup form, then stir in a pat or two of butter. Serve atop pork chops or chicken.

When you’ve exhausted all these ideas and still have the gift of fresh peaches, make cake. This recipe, from Southern Living magazine’s 1996 annual recipes, actually calls for fresh strawberries, but I’ve used it with all kinds of stone fruit.

Who knows? It’s so good and so versatile, I may find a new use for winter’s apples and pears!

Peach Cake

Beat 1/4 cup butter with 3/4 cup sugar until fluffy. Add 1 egg and 1 teaspoon vanilla.

Whisk together 1 1/4 cups flour, 1 1/4 teaspoons baking powder and 1/2 teaspoon salt. Add to butter mixture along with 1/2 cup milk. Beat just until combined.

Pour batter into a greased 9-inch cake pan. Arrange 3-4 peeled peaches on top.

Using a pastry blender, combine 1/4 cup flour, 1/4 cup sugar and 1/4 cup chilled butter until crumbly. Sprinkle over peaches.

Bake in a 350 degree oven for 50 minutes to 1 hour. Serve warm or cold.

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