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Picking Perfect Peaches

When peaches are in season, it's time to enjoy them or prepare them for the freezer

When peaches start to show up in produce sections, it means that summer is well on its way. In fact, the peak season for best flavors is July and August, but you'll see seasonal varieties starting in May. (Those that appear early in the season will indeed be smaller - they'll be great for cutting up and adding to cereal.)

The larger the better goes for peach selection - the longer they're allowed to stay on the vine, the sweeter they will be. The fuzzy flesh should give just a little to the touch and never feel hard. Avoid those that are green-skinned.

When you get them home, let them sit at room temperature to ripen further. They won't become sweeter, just more tender. Once they reach that stage, then you can refrigerate them to stop the ripening process. Use them within five days, though, or they may become too soft and mushy. Let a peach come to room temperature before eating it fresh - about 30 minutes. This brings out the best flavors.

Always serve peaches immediately, if possible, as they will start to turn brown. To retard the color change, sprinkle them with lemon juice (or vinegar, but the smell won't be as pleasant).

Most peach varieties you find at the grocery are freestone varieties, meaning they have been cultivated for easy pit removal. The red, spiky area around the pit can have bitter qualities, so you may wish to scrape it or trim it out as well. If the pit stubbornly remains attached to the flesh, it is called a "clingstone."

For freezing, you don't have to add sugar if you are avoiding sweets. Some experts recommend simply placing them whole in a freezer bag. When you're ready to use them, just thaw in hot water. The skins can then be easily removed. Don't expect them to have the consistency of fresh fruits, but they'll be great for purees and baking or for smoothies and other cold desserts.


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