It's late afternoon in the summer of 1968. I am ten years old, or thereabouts. My father and I have carried his paint-splattered wooden ladder from the garage around to the back garden on the left hand side of our family home. That's where my dad's peach, apricot and nectarine trees grew.
We needed the ladder because the best fruit - the juiciest, ripest, most delicious fruit - was out of reach, at the very top of the peach tree. We would pick those peaches when they were perfectly ripe, just before they were about to fall to the ground.
If I close my eyes for a moment, I can still smell the heady perfume of those sun-ripened delights - and taste their sweet, sweet nectar, which dribbled down our chin and ran down our arms when we bit into the soft flesh of the fruit.
Somehow, they just don't make them, or should I say 'grow them', like that any more! Or do they?
One of my food heroes, Matthew Evans, was in Canberra this week for a literary dinner at the Australian National University. During the talk promoting his latest book, Summer on Fat Pig Farm, the Gourmet Farmer veered off topic to share his thoughts on why some food tastes better than others. Particularly peaches.
"In this book I've written a lot about peaches. Actually, I'm probably a bit of a peach bore, but I was trying to find out why, when I went to France and picked up a peach at the market, the peach was so ripe that I ended up with only the skin of the peach in my hand."
"I wondered why I could never buy a peach like that from an Australian supermarket. And then I discovered that I could buy trays of peaches fresh from the farm in Araluen. They call them 'melting flesh peaches', that's the technical term. You'd bite into them and the flesh would literally melt in your mouth and the juice would dribble all down your chin. Ideally you'd be wearing no shirt, or you're leaning over the bath, or you're eating them outside. And, as you're doing that, this incredible, intoxicating peach fragrance goes up your nose, your eyeballs roll back, and there is no place you'd rather be, than eating that peach."
"When you read about growing peaches and people trying to sell peaches, one of the things I discovered is that nobody cares about THAT peach. The type that makes your eyeballs roll back in your head. When 'they' are growing peaches, they just want to grow in an area that doesn't get as much frost, too many chill nights below seven degrees. They want peaches that they harvest a month before everyone else, so they can dominate the market, or a month later than anyone else, so they can dominate the market. They want a peach that they can grow in a climate they've never grown in before. And they want a peach that will keep for a really long time and can be trucked a long way. Pretty much everything I read was about another peach variety, known as 'rubbery flesh' or firm fleshed peach. These are the peaches they want to sell you. But this is not the peach you want to eat."
"When I moved to Tasmania, I was trying to find an amazing peach. The kind of peach you can't have in the car with you with the windows closed. I know it exists and you know it exists. If you've ever had one, you know it's there. But how can you find the perfect peach and how can you tell it's ripe."
"So, I met this guy, my mate Ross, who introduced me to a retired peach orchardist. And I said to him: Oh, so you're a peach grower, you grow the stuff, how do you know when a peach is ripe enough to eat? And he just looked at me like I was shit on a shoe, like I was the dumbest person on earth. He said: What do you mean? So I said: I want to know about the perfectly ripe peach... when the acid and the sweetness and the fragrance are at their absolute peak. When is that bliss moment? How do I find that peach? And he said: When it falls on the ground."
"A peach is at its ripest when it falls off the tree. And, as a peach grower, he eats the ones that have fallen to the ground. No-one is going to sell you that peach. But the art of peach growing is to pick the peach the day it's going to fall to the ground. The reason that everything is in harmony is that the peach is getting ready to fall to the ground and propagate itself. And that's a ripe peach for you."
Among the delicious recipes in Summer on Fat Pig Farm, you'll find white peaches with blueberries and sauvignon blanc jelly; peach and raspberry pavlova that's special enough for Christmas; fruit trifle; white peach and mint sangria; and white peach with gin and basil. It's a cracker of a cookbook written by a fellow who is passionate about food. Look for it at your local library or bookstore.
Tell me dear friends, do you have fond memories of eating perfectly ripe peaches? Perhaps you grow them? Do please share your stories, I love hearing from you.
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