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Peach perfection

August 27, 2003|by KATE COLEMAN

katec@herald-mail.com

The peach - that fuzzy, pinkish-golden, juicy fruit - can be canned, dried, frozen, baked, jammed and jellied.

"Getting them fresh off the tree is tough to beat," says Eric LeMasters, horticulture consultant in Washington County with the Cooperative Extension Service of the University of Maryland.

In season, the peach can be eaten all by itself - the sweet-tart juice escaping with the first bite - tasting like summer itself.

Fat and cholesterol free, a peach - at about 40 to 60 calories - is a sweet way to check off one of five colorful fruits and vegetables a day recommended in a healthy diet. Or check off two: There are white peaches as well as the yellowish varieties.

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Peaches are a good source of potassium, important for controlling blood pressure, says Julie Walsh, a registered dietitian and spokeswoman for the American Dietetic Association.

Although there are fruits with more vitamin C, peaches hold their share. They are high in vitamin A, and - particularly the darker varieties - are also a good source of phytochemicals, which are helpful in preventing heart disease and cancer, as well as some of the negative effects of aging, Walsh says.

Peachy.

That means fine or excellent in "old slang," according to Webster's dictionary, and the taste of a fresh, ripe peach certainly is.

Old slang is appropriate for the peach, which has been around for quite a while. A member of the rose family, the fruit is thought to have originated in China more than 4,000 years ago and introduced into Persia before Christian times.

The Romans brought the peach to Europe, and the fruit came to the colony of Virginia before 1629.

There are two main categories of peaches: clingstone and freestone, terms which describe the adhesion of the fruit to its hard and deeply pitted pit. It's easier to remove fruit from a freestone than a cling peach.

The peach is a good excuse for celebrations. There are peach festivals in many parts of the country - from Box Elder County, Utah, to closer to home in Leitersburg, which celebrated its 24th annual peach party earlier this month.

In Washington County, still the No. 1 fruit-producing county in Maryland, there are about 2,000 acres of fruit trees, says Don Schwartz, Maryland Cooperative Extension agent for Washington County. More than three-quarters of those are apple trees, he says, but for local peach growers - most of whom have small family-owned operations - peaches are a critically important cash crop. Almost all local peaches are fresh market peaches. They are not grown for commercial processing.

Jola Ottinger, who owns Delightables, a Hagers-town restaurant open since the end of May, varies her menus according to the season.

"I think food is always better when it's fresher," she says.

She offers hearty and light options for lunch, dinner and in her weekly meal plan - three or five made-from-scratch entrees prepared and ready for customer takeout.

While fresh peaches are available, she's been featuring some really peachy desserts.

"I do a lot with fruit," she says. "I try to use fruit in unconventional ways."

Ottinger describes herself as a cookbook addict. "I'm always experimenting."

"Fruit lightens things up a lot," she says about devising lighter recipes. It gives foods a different spin, she adds.

Ottinger shared a few of her peach recipes with options that include sugar substitutes and nonfat ingredients.

"Mom's cooking done light," is how she describes some of her offerings.

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