Peter Piper Picked a Peck of...

Peaches! And, boy, they are sweet and juicy!

About 90 miles southeast of Tucson, Arizona, is the small historic farming town of Wilcox. When I go to our Tucson farmers market, I find much of the best produce comes from Wilcox, especially the tomatoes. When you dine at a restaurant here, chefs proudly announce that, "this evening you will be enjoying fresh Wilcox tomatoes."

And, while the tomatoes are good and ripe in Wilcox these days, it was the Peach Mania festival that got me and my friend Luisa out early last Sunday for a road trip to Apple Annie's!

I had feared fewer peaches than usual this year due to the bad frosts in our region this past winter. Farmer John (Apple Annie's husband) shared that this was, indeed, true. The frost hit just after blossom time and several varieties bore really small fruit this year. We tried the Glow Havens (nuggets, they call them, only an inch in diameter), and they are definitely sweet, packing heavy doses of sugar.

Luisa picking perfect peaches in her new purple hat!
John showed us the large fans he uses to make temperatures in the orchard 4-5°F warmer when frosts are forecast. Funny, when I arrived I saw the huge fans and assumed they were harvesting wind power!

He steered us to three rows of one of his favorite varieties - Crest Havens. About two rows further down were the Suncrest variety - "Sweeter," he said, "but lacking a touch of acidity that really brightens the flavor of a peach." We started by picking a dozen or so Crest Havens at his recommendation but, ever curious, I had to try a Suncrest.

Don't ever doubt Farmer John. It was a bit sweet and, had I not just had a Crest Haven, I would have thought it a perfect peach. But in comparison, the flavor was a bit flat. We also tried a J.H. Hale variety - large and juicy, they are just about ripe. Attendees this weekend might be in luck to pick the Hales!

Following our picking adventure, we hit the weigh station, paid for our fruit (we picked some apples, too) and packed them in the car. Then we went back in for lunch.... Main course: a slice of peach crumb pie. Dessert: their homemade peach ice cream. Talk about getting all the major food groups into one meal! The only thing missing was chocolate.

If you live near Tucson, Peach Mania continues this weekend and next. They also have a lot of fun upcoming events, as well as a great store with peach and apple products - nut butters, vinegars, homemade butter and ciders to name a few. Their farm stand (about 6 miles further up the road) abounds with great produce - a good opportunity to get some of those Wilcox tomatoes!

As for the peaches I brought home? Two things... I just made a peach frangipane tart (so good!) and will be making some peach jam later today... The tart is based on a recipe from Gourmet magazine years ago for individual little peach tartlets. Frangipane is an almond-flavored paste used in many pastries. I made a few changes to the recipe (my own tart crust, blind-baking the crust to prevent sogginess, reduced butter and sugar content). I think you'll like it!

Life is peachy, isn't it?

~ David

Peach Frangipane Tart

2½ ounces ground almonds
¼ cup sugar plus 1 tablespoon sugar (divided)
5 tablespoons butter, softened, divided
1 egg yolk
½ teaspoon almond or vanilla extract
1 recipe tart pastry (below), blind-baked
2-3 large peaches, halved, pitted and thinly sliced

Preheat oven to 375°F. In a food processor, combine the ground almonds, ¼ cup sugar, 4 tablespoons butter, egg yolk and almond extract and process until a thick paste forms. Spread almond mixture on the prepared crust and top with concentric circles of peach slices. Sprinkle peaches with remaining tablespoon of sugar, dot with remaining tablespoon butter and bake for 35 minutes, or until bubbly.

Serves 8-10.

Tart Pastry

1⅓ cup flour
pinch salt
3 tablespoons granulated sugar
8 tablespoons cold unsalted butter, cut into 16 pieces
1 egg, separated
ice water

Preheat oven to 400°F. Place flour, salt and sugar in the bowl of a food processor; pulse to blend. Add butter and pulse 12-15 times, or until bits of butter are about the size of small peas.

Place the egg yolk in a ¼-cup measure (reserve egg white) and add ice water to fill the measure; stir with a fork to break up the egg yolk. Drizzle the liquid over the dry ingredients and then pulse to distribute. Then turn on the processor and run until dough almost forms a ball around the blade. Pastry may be rolled or pressed into an 11-inch tart pan with removable bottom. Prick the pastry all over with a fork.

Line the tart pastry with aluminum foil, then fill with pie weights (or dried beans or rice) and bake for 12 minutes. Remove foil and weights immediately, brush crust with reserved egg white and fill per recipe instructions above.

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