(Prunus persica or P. vulgaris or Amygdalus persica— Family Rosaceae)
pêche (French), Pfirsich (German), pesca (Italian), melocotón (Spanish), pêssego (Portuguese), fersken (Danish/Norwegian), persika (Swedish), persikka (Finnish), persik (Russian), brzoskwinia (Polish), breskva (Serbo-Croat), piersica (Romanian), praskova (Bulgarian), robakinon (Greek), seftali (Turkish), afarseq (Hebrew), khúkh (Arabic), hulu (Persian), arú (Hindi), tao (Chinese), momo (Japanese), persik (Indonesian)
Like the plum and the apricot, the peach is a member of the Rose family and distinguished by its velvety skin.
It is classified as a drupe, that is, it is a fruit with a hard stone. Although the nectarine is of the same species, it is treated as a separate fruit in that it has a smooth skin.
They are so similar that peach trees sometimes spontaneously produce nectarines and vice versa. With the exception of the cherry, the peach is the most celebrated in literature in both the East and the West. It is a fruit of a temperate, but warm, climate and will not endure the extremes of tropical heat or extreme cold.
The peach originated in China, where wild trees can still be found and where they are regarded as a symbol of longevity and immortality. Their size has not changed much in cultivation, although they live for only ten to twenty years.
The tree remains one of a medium size with beautiful pointed leaves. The fruits of the wild trees,
however, are small, sour, and very fuzzy, unlike the cultivated forms, which are large and succulently sweet with a minimum of fuzz.
The tree can be propagated from seed, and cultivation has taken place for hundreds of years. It flourished so well in “Persia” that many think it originated there and, hence, the botanical name of persica.
Peaches were taken along the old silk routes from China to Persia, where they were discovered by Alexander the Great, who mentions half a dozen types and who introduced them to the Greeks and Romans. The Romans spread the peach further north and west. It was the Spanish who took the fruit to America in the 16th century.
Today, so many peaches are grown in Georgia, that it is known as the Peach State.
About the same time is when most think it was introduced to England. However, there is evidence to suggest that Chaucer was referring to two kinds of peach trees growing at the Tower of London in 1372 and had likely been in England since the 2nd century, when Roman soldiers were “exploring” the land. Peach-growing seemed to discontinue for a period of time in England, but was reintroduced from France and the Netherlands when Henry VIII’s gardener took on the challenge.
There are two kinds of peach, clingstone
determined by how easily the flesh parts from around the pit.
Their appearance is a work of art and has inspired many a writer and painter. The downy skin of the peach is generally yellow and flushed with red, but it can be white with the same reddish blushing.
are sweeter than their yellow-fleshed cousins because of the low acid levels.
The most famous peaches are round with a beaked or pointed end, but they can also be flat and disc-shaped.
are flat, with rounded sides that draw in toward the center like a doughnut without a hole. It is a descendant of the flat Chinese peach.
Peaches are seldom sold by variety, but rather by color of their flesh – yellow or white.
include Flavorcrest, Elegant Lady, Royal George, and Bellegarde.
Mireille is a popular white variety, as is the Dorothée from France.
The finest peaches of all are the pêches de vigne,
which are small red-fleshed fruits grown in vineyards. They do not look particularly attractive as they are covered with greyish down, but the flavor is superb and not likely to be found outside markets in France.
California alone grows 175 different varieties of peaches, but each has only subtle differences from the others. Newer varieties have been developed to create a larger, firmer, more acidic peach than the older ones.
Although peaches are a good source of vitamins A, B, and C, as well as other trace nutrients, these are quickly lost because peaches bruise and deteriorate quickly.
To be at their best, they should be picked from the tree when just ripe. Those that exported long distances are picked long before they are ripe. Consequently, they have a flat and unappealing flavour, as well as being dry and devoid of many nutrients.
In some Mediterranean countries, the green fruits, which never fully ripen, are said to be of wild peaches and used in cooking and preserves. These are not true wild peaches, but only escapees from cultivation as the true wild peaches are only found in China.
Excellent fresh peaches can also be cooked or canned. They also freeze well for later use. Peaches make wonderful crisps, pies, and jams and are a favourite on cereals.
Native peach, quandong
(Eukarya acuminata and Santalum acuminatum – Family Santalaceae)
The native peach is not a true peach but a fruit native to Australia, Malaysia, India, and eastern Polynesia. These fruits are from sandalwood trees, of which twenty-five or so are known; but only two or three are cultivated for their edible nuts.
The outer flesh of the fruit is red and pulpy. It is made into pies, jams, and chutneys. The nut inside is hard to crack, but the kernel is well worth the effort. The nut has about a 60% oil content, but also contains 25% protein. The tree is actually a semi-parasitic herb-type, much like that of the mistletoe (Loranthus sp.)