Thursday, June 28, 2012

Georgia Peaches in Nashville & Peach Chutney

I've lived in Tennessee a long time, but in all these years I have yet to find a decent fresh peach. It's astonishing, really. Most peaches I find at produce stands, farmers' markets, and even Whole Foods that are touted as "local" come from Kentucky or South Carolina. I don't mind a slightly distant provenance, but I'm sorry to say the peaches -- even ones from Tennessee -- aren't even very good. More often than not they aren't very sweet, or juicy, and sometimes have a weird, mealy texture. I don't think that's necessarily a function of the quality of peach that CAN be grown in those areas, but just what we wind up getting here in Nashville. I've heard Alabama peaches are good, but we don't seem to get those up here, either.

I long for the Georgia peach of my youth. I remember going to the Georgia Farmers' Market in Forest Park, just south of Atlanta and my hometown of Hapeville, GA. There were certain things we'd always load up on in the summer time in those huge outdoor sheds, peaches and watermelon being chief among them. We'd eat the peaches plain, after they'd macerated with a little sugar to form a syrup, or my mother would make peach ice cream. Of course the sepia-toned memories of childhood might make those peaches a little more tasty in retrospect than they really were, but I know they were always ripe and sweet and juicy, qualities that can be hard to find in the modern peach available to me now.

I wasn't even going to bother with peaches this year, so great was my disappointment last year. Enter The Peach Truck. Entrepreneur Stephen Rose grew up in Snellville, Georgia but was born in Ft. Valley, the epicenter of peach farming in Georgia. His aunt and uncle have a multi-generation farm in the area, Pearson Farm. Stephen's day job is in personal finance, but The Peach Truck is a sideline that grew out of his desire for Georgia peaches. He had also been disappointed by the quality of peaches in Nashville after moving to the area a couple of years ago. After describing his dilemma to his aunt & uncle, they suggested he try selling their peaches here. A year of discussion, and a spring of going door-to-door to local restaurants, and a surprisingly successful enterprise was born.

Pearson's is the peach source for some notable Atlanta restaurants, and now customers of Edley's, Burger Up, Capitol Grille, City House, and many more can enjoy creations made with Pearson's peaches.  The peaches are also available all week at the two Turnip Truck locations, and Thursday through Sunday you can buy directly from The Peach Truck itself. Stephen sets up shop from the back of a vintage pickup truck, parking in hip locales like imogene + willie in 12South, or even less hip venues like the monthly Flea Market at the Fairgrounds; you can find out where The Peach Truck is parked on any given day by following it on Twitter. In addition, this weekend they will be at the Nashville Farmers' Market, and there's currently a contest on Yelp to win a box of peaches. A bag of peaches from the truck is about 3 pounds worth and costs $6 -- about what you'd pay for gnarly Kentucky or South Carolina peaches from a produce stand. So far Stephen has been able to keep up with the burgeoning demand, and Pearson's predicts they'll be able to supply peaches through about July 15. Also, it turns out that the brutally hot weather that's causing us humans to go droopy 'round the edges is great for peaches, and this year is a bumper crop.

So what did I do with my precious booty? First, I peeled and sliced one and ate it and swooned. Then ... the dishes that usually leap to mind first when faced with a horde of fresh peaches are cobbler and pie. I did make a pie this week, and it was incredibly good. I'll probably make a cobbler with my next haul, using my mother's time-honored, super-simple Georgia cobbler recipe. (It's similar to this one on Pearson's web site:  Easy Cobbler.) Both pie and cobbler are especially delicious if you toss in a generous handful of fresh blueberries or raspberries, which come into season at the same time.

A favorite of mine, though, is Peach Chutney. Chutney can be made from many types of fruit and even vegetables; mango chutney is probably the most well-known in the U.S., owing to the ubiquity of Major Grey's Chutney in even the smallest supermarket. A Southeast Asian condiment, the chutney you usually find in the U.S. and Europe is simultaneously sweet, tart, savory, and often a little spicy. In addition to being a delicious addition to Indian dishes, chutney is terrific with chicken, pork, and some fish. It's also good on sandwiches or dolloped on cheese and crackers. It's especially good with a soft, creamy cheese like chevre or even plain cream cheese. (This last combination is kin to that Southern potluck staple of cream cheese covered in Pickapeppa or pepper jelly.)

I've used various recipes over the years, so I don't have a standard. Today I used a recipe from, the parent site for Bon Appetit and the late, lamented Gourmet. I was quite pleased with the end result. Chutneys are fairly forgiving. You want the right balance of tart and sweet and heat and savory, but you can fudge things a little to make use of what you might have on hand. If you don't have white raisins but do have dark, go ahead and use the dark. For example, in this case I didn't have a whole red pepper but did have a mini red and a mini yellow, so in they went, and I didn't worry about making up the difference in volume. If I'd found the heat lacking in the final product, a pinch of red pepper flakes would have set things right.

Chutney is best made with peaches that are slightly underripe. When I snagged my 2 bags on Saturday, I was advised that they still needed ripening, and that they'd be ready to eat in a day or two. Actually, it was Tues before they were OK to eat out of hand, and by Wednesday they were perfect. On Monday evening, though, they were just right for chutney.

Fresh Peach Chutney

adapted from
1/2 cup cider vinegar
3/4 cup loosely packed brown sugar
1 large sweet red pepper, seeded & diced (about 1/2 cup)
1 small white onion diced (about 1/2 cup)
1 small jalapeño pepper, seeded & minced (2 tablespoons)
1/3 cup white raisins
1 tablespoon finely chopped garlic
1 tablespoon grated ginger
1/2 teaspoon salt
1 1/2 pounds firm (not completely ripe), fresh peaches, peeled & diced

Put the vinegar and sugar into a non-reactive pot, place over medium heat and bring to a boil. Add the red pepper, onion, jalapeño, raisins, garlic, ginger, salt and simmer 12 minutes. Add the peaches and simmer an additional 10 minutes, stirring occasionally. If the peaches are still firm, cook several minutes more.

Remove from the heat and allow to cool for 15 minutes. Serve at room temperature. Transfer all excess to a clean container and refrigerate, covered, for up to one week.


Lesley Eats said...

Question: my peaches usually go from not ripe enough to OMGDISINTEGRATED within minutes. Any secret to storage? Note: I greatly dislike eating cold fruit.

TLF said...

I've had that problem, too, with the peaches I've gotten around here. I didn't have that problem with this batch I got from TPT. So, no secret ... I just left them out on the counter. Eddie Izzard actually has a routine about this phenom in pears ... (starting at about the 4:30 mark). I think peaches are like tomatoes, too, in that you shouldn't put them in the fridge.