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Peaches and dreams

Updated: 2010-09-12 10:54
By Pauline D Loh ( China Daily)

Peaches and dreams

Even as the summer winds down in Beijing, the fruit stalls are still stacked high with peaches of all sizes. Pauline D Loh thinks up some dreamy recipes for this succulent fruit.

Peaches always remind me of sunshine and holidays. They conjure up fading memories of half-term breaks when school tea was a spread of cucumber and potted meat sandwiches, buttery scones, sugary cupcakes and delicious peaches with cream. It was a different age and a different era, and in a very different country.

These days, my peaches are the fuzzy monster balls that are stacked half-a-meter high at the fruit stall at the mouth of our hutong.

They are the squashed dough-nut peaches that smell faintly of almond, which appear early in the season. And, mostly, local peaches are crisp and sweet, creamy white and tinged a gorgeous shade of deep maroon around the stone, exactly like the Chinese watercolors of the late master artist, Qi Baishi (1864-1957).

In distant days past, shuimi tao, or honey peaches, would be sold at Beijing street corners by farmers from Haidian and the countryside beyond the Fifth Ring Road. For just 10 yuan ($1.5), you could feast on a large bagful. They were incredibly juicy, and the nectar would spurt when teeth pieced the skin and drip in sticky rivulets down your chin and shirt-front.

You can still get some around now, late in the season, although they are pretty hard to find. There is a variety known as da jiu bao, a rather oxymoronic term which describes them as big peaches that can keep, despite the fact that they are the most fragile fruits. They are never sold far from source, as they are extremely perishable and easily bruised.

But they are also the most delicious - juicy, fragrant and best eaten standing over a sink.

Most peaches these days are harvested early so they can weather the journey from orchard to shop. They may be perfectly unblemished but they no longer have the sun-warmed sweetness that comes from fruit ripened on the tree.

Still, these are some of the best loved fruits in China, and indeed the world. They are eaten fresh, canned, stewed and dried, made into jams and preserves and processed into nectars and juices. And increasingly, peaches in season are appearing on dinner tables in the best gourmet establishments.

They are a versatile ingredient, and cooking actually accentuates their flavor and juiciness. Their slight tartness makes them a natural accompaniment to rich meats, such as chicken or pork, although stronger flavored beef or lamb may overwhelm their subtle perfume. They are also very useful in sauces, adding flavor and piquancy to sweet and sour dishes.

Or, try cutting them up and adding them to a salad. Pair them with thin wafers of Prosciutto or Parma and you'll never use melon again.

And there are always the desserts like classic peach Melba icecream sundae or a cobbler with cakey, crumbly topping and luscious stewed peaches hiding underneath.

Here are three recipes to start you off on your kitchen experiments with peaches. The first is a simple peach and chicken skewer that can be served for a dinner party or an intimate meal for two. Then, I am suggesting a nice little salad that pairs peach and Parma ham to cleanse the palate. Finally, what's a meal without dessert?

Try these out soon, and catch the last of the season's peaches or you'll have to wait another year.


Peaches and dreams

Ingredients (serves 4):

2 large peaches, skinned and stoned

2 tbsp raisins

2 tbsp honey

50 g chilled butter

2 tbsp plain flour

2 tbsp rolled oats

1 tbsp soft brown sugar

1 tsp salt

Juice and zest of 1 lemon


1. Cut peaches into thick slices and drizzle with lemon juice.

2. Arrange them at the bottom of an oiled pie dish or small baking tin and drizzle the honey over.

3. Cut the chilled butter into small cubes and rub them into the flour until the mixture resembles large breadcrumbs. Add rolled oats, raisins, lemon zest, sugar and salt. Mix well.

4. Spoon the crumble mixture over the peaches and bake in a pre-heated 180 deg oven for about 10 to 15 minutes until mixture is well-browned and crisp.

5. Serve hot, perhaps with a scoop of ice cream or a dollop of well-chilled crme fraiche.

Food Notes:

This is an excellent way of using peaches that are a little past their prime or those luscious soft fragrant local peaches called da jiu bao. In fact, the ripest peaches will become incredibly juicy after baking. It's also a healthy way of getting fiber into young diets. You can actually use any ripe fruit in season for this crumble. One year, we had lots of persimmons in the house and I cooked up a batch. They disappeared quickly enough.


Ingredients (serves 4):

2 large peaches, skinned and stoned

8 slices Parma ham

200 g lettuce or mixed salad leaves

2 tbsp good quality dark vinegar (or aged balsamic)

4 tbsp extra virgin olive oil

1 tsp honey

Freshly cracked black pepper or toasted sesame seeds


1. Carefully slice peaches into thick slices. Chill well until ready to serve.

2. Wash lettuce leaves or mixed salad leaves and divide among four platters.

3. Place the vinegar, olive oil and honey into a screw-top jar and shake until dressing emulsifies.

4. Drizzle dressing over the salad leaves.

5. Arrange peach slices along one side, on top of the dressed salad leaves.

6. Tear up two slices of Parma ham per plate and place on top of the lettuce and peaches.

7. Finally, twist some freshly cracked black pepper over the plate and serve. Or garnish with a generous scattering of sesame seeds.

Food Notes:

This is a salad that will knock their socks off if you are entertaining. Parma ham is easily available in the better supermarkets here and a packet will serve four nicely. You should tear it up into thin bite-sized pieces for easy eating and its musky saltiness will go very well with the sweetness of the peaches.


Peaches and dreams

Ingredients (serves 4):

2 large peaches, skinned and stoned

2 chicken breasts or leg fillets

1 small red onion, skinned

1 stalk rosemary

1 tsp black pepper

1 tbsp honey

1 tsp salt

Lemon wedges to serve


1. Cut peaches into large 2-cm cubes.

2. Remove skin from chicken fillets and cut into 2-cm cubes.

3. Mince the red onion. Strip leaves off the rosemary stalk and chop.

4. Marinate the chicken in the chopped red onion and rosemary and add the honey, salt and pepper. Leave aside for at least an hour or longer to let the chicken absorb all the flavors.

5. Start with a piece of chicken and thread alternate chunks of peach and meat onto skewers.

6. Grill in a hot oven or on a medium barbecue for five minutes on each side until meat is cooked and peaches are caramelized around the edges.

7. Serve with wedges of lemon, perhaps on a bed of flavored rice.

Food Notes:

Peaches and herbs are a classic combination. I used rosemary because I have a little plant at home but you can use other herbs, such as thyme or the common coriander. Mint will also work well. This lovely dish can be served as a starter or a main course and is a perfect way to make use of the still abundant peaches of the season. Choose firmer fruit so they won't fall off the sticks.