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Thursday, Aug. 10, 2006 12:57 am

Fuzzy queen of fruit

Eat a peach. Now.

Photo by Tammy Lungblad/MCT

Peaches and ice cream is my all-time favorite summer treat. Nothing tastes better than a tree-ripened peach, and, thanks to a mild winter and heavy blooms, locally grown fresh peaches are abundant this year.

Peaches, known as the queen of fruit, rank second in popularity to the apple. A medium-sized peach is a healthy treat boasting just 45 calories, most from natural sugars. They are also a good source of fiber and beta-carotene, have only a negligible amount of fat (less than a tenth of a gram), and no sodium or cholesterol.

When selecting peaches from a tree or in the supermarket, look for the best ripe fruit, which has deep-yellow or creamy-white color. Avoid fruits that are pale or dark green — these immature specimens won’t ripen further. Skip fruit that is rock hard, bruised, wrinkled, or overripe.

Keep in mind that there are no fuzzless peaches. Most peaches purchased from a grocery store have been mechanically brushed to remove the fuzz. Nectarines, which lack fuzz, may be considered a substitute for peaches. Nectarines have more red coloration on the skin and are usually smaller than peaches.

One pound of peaches equals three or four medium-size peaches or 2 to 3 cups of peeled and sliced peaches. They are generally sold in a half-peck, peck, or half-bushel.

Store ripe, unwashed fresh peaches in the refrigerator and use them within one to two weeks. Wash the peaches just before you’re ready to use them. Before eating, bring the peach to room temperature by leaving it out of the refrigerator for about an hour.

Peach flesh is either yellow or white. There are hundreds of different peach cultivars, divided into two types, freestones and clingstones. The flesh of a freestone peach separates easily from the pit. This type is mainly used for eating fresh or freezing. The flesh of a clingstone peach clings tightly to the pit; this type is preferred for canning.

Fresh peaches are available locally right now. Jefferies Orchard will have Cresthaven, a yellow peach, and Blushing Star, a white peach, for about the next two weeks. Jefferies is located at 1016 Jefferies Rd. (north of the airport). Because availability of the peaches varies, be sure to call the orchard, at 217-487-7582, before making the trip.

Peaches produced by central-Illinois growers are also available at the Old Capitol Farmers’ Market. The market, located on Adams Street between Third and Fifth streets in Springfield, is open 8 a.m.-1 p.m. Wednesday and Saturday.

Peaches are great eaten fresh and are a favorite in a variety of baked goods, but for a different peach treat, try peach salsa.

Jennifer Fishburn is a unit educator with the University of Illinois Extension, Sangamon-Menard Unit. For more information, go to www.extension.uiuc.edu/sangamon.

Peach salsa
This salsa recipe has not been tested for safety for canning and processing purposes.

4 cups peeled, diced peaches
1/4 diced red onion
1/4 cup raisins
1 to 2 tablespoons lemon juice

Combine all ingredients in medium-sized bowl. Refrigerate for several hours before serving. Serve with grilled chicken or fish or scoop up with warm tortilla or pita quarters. Serve fresh, store in refrigerator, and use within two or three days or freeze in freezer-safe containers. Yields about 4 1/2 cups.

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