Peaches are round fruits that range in size from 5 to 9 centimeters in diameter. They are distinguished by a downy fuzz covering their thin skins. The fruits mature from green to yellow and then orange with deep red blushing on the side facing the sun. The deep orange flesh is aromatic and juicy and may or may not cling to the hard, almond-shaped central stone. Peaches offer a sweet flavor, balancing sugar and acid for a well-rounded flavor.
Peaches are available year-round, with a peak season during the summer months.
Peaches are botanically classified as Prunus persica and are considered “stone fruits,” and are closely related to apricots, plums, cherries and almonds. There are hundreds of varieties of peaches, including heirloom varieties and hybrid crosses. Peaches come in two different types, yellow-fleshed or white-fleshed and are identified as either freestone or clingstone, signaling to whether the fruit's pit hugs its flesh or is easily removed. There are hundreds of named Peach cultivars including Autumn Flame, O’Henry, and trademarked, boutique varieties like the Donut™ peach.
Peaches are an excellent source of vitamin A, B-complex vitamins thiamin, riboflavin and niacin, potassium, iron and phosphorus. They are also a good source of fiber, calcium, vitamins C, E, and K and a small amount of protein and sodium. Wild Peach varieties are found to be more nutrient-dense than cultivated ones.
Peaches are ideal for eating raw and are used in a variety of cooked applications, from savory to sweet. Freestone varieties are most often used for fresh eating and are most common in markets. Clingstone varieties are typically used for processing but are also becoming more popular at farmer’s markets. Wash Peaches thoroughly before using. They are sliced for fruit salads or tossed green salads or used for canapes or hors d’oeurves. They are blended into smoothies or milkshakes, or juiced for beverages, cocktails, vinaigrettes or dressings. Peaches are ideal for baking, grilling and processing into jams, syrups, ice creams or preserved in syrup. Their most common use is for baking into desserts like cakes, pies, tarts and galettes. Sliced Peaches can be frozen or canned. Store them in the refrigerator for up to a week.
Though not native to Virginia in the United States, Peach trees grow there in abundance. At the beginning of the 18th century, early American botanists even believed Peaches to be native to the area. Peaches had been cultivated by Native American tribes in the southeast and as far north as Pennsylvania. Before the 17th century, few types of Peaches were known. During the late 18th century, Thomas Jefferson planted over 38 different varieties in the orchard near his home at Mount Vernon, helping boost the popularity of the sweet stone fruit.
Peaches are native to China, where the earliest evidence of peach domestication is traced to the Zhejiang Province in the southeastern are of the country. Fossilized Peach stones were Peaches were carried via the Silk Road to the Mediterranean region, also known as the Fertile Crescent, where they flourished in the warm climate. Peaches were introduced to the Americas by either the Spanish or the French, both of whom arrived in what is now Florida during the mid-1500s. Today, China is the leading producer of Peaches followed by Spain and Italy. In the United States, Peaches are available year-round with help from growers in Chile. Most varieties prefer temperate climates where winters are wet, and summers are hot and dry, and require adequate summer watering, pruning and fruit thinning. Peaches are available in most temperate regions where it doesn’t get too hot or too cold. They can be spotted in grocery stores and markets worldwide.