That first peach fell at my feet. Idling in the shade of the tree, drawn by the fragrant scent of its fruit, I was disturbed by a dull thud and the rustle of dry grass. The tree had ripened a peach all it could—and let it go. It smelled like heaven, sweet, rich and good. I inhaled its perfume as I do a good single malt. Eating a perfectly ripe peach is an experience: it is as much a drink as food. The juiciness as much as the flavour made me laugh; they are almost impossibly fine. I quickly learnt to lean forward, my mouth beyond my feet, to avoid soaking trousers and shoes.
Much of the splendour of homegrown peaches and nectarines is owed to being able to harvest them at their peak, rather than early and firm, many days ahead of perfection, so they can stand the trip to the supermarket shelves. Peach or nectarine will tell you it’s approaching its peak with its scent—you can smell it from yards away and nectarines will often deepen in colour as the moment to pick them nears.
Sadly, we can’t sit under the tree waiting for them to fall. Once that scent draws you in, it’s time to cup each ripening fruit in the palm of your hand and turn it with as little grip as possible; when it’s ready, it will drop with no persuasion. A gentle hand is vital. Don’t squeeze the fruit—any pressure damages the flesh accelerates decay and draws the wasps.
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August 05, 2020