If you’re one who loves the taste of a sweet, ripe peach, get ready. Illinois peaches are just about ready to hit Farmers’ Markets and supermarket produce bins.
This year’s tough winter took a toll on the southern Illinois peach crop — growers north of Interstate 64 got hit the hardest and are expecting a smaller harvest, but south of the Interstate, a normal crop is expected.
Harvest should start by mid-July and continue through fall. That’s a little later than normal but the peaches took a little longer to ripen. Some orchards had bud damage; others just don’t have as many peaches on the tree, depending on where the orchard is located. The harsh winter seems to have hit early varieties more than the later-maturing ones.
The peach plant is actually a small deciduous tree that grows up to 25 to 30 feet tall and is widely grown, not only in the U.S., but also Europe and China. Generally, the peach tree bears numerous, almost uniform sized fruit between May and September months. The fruit is known for its fuzzy outer surface with longitudinal depressions extending from the stem end to the tip. Depending up on the seed that is free or firmly attached to the pulp, they are classified into free-stone variety or clinging seed variety. There are also flat or donut peaches – peaches that are flattened, disc-like freestone fruits drawn in at the center. They have similar peach flavor and taste.
Wonderfully delicious peaches are low in calories – 39 calories per cup and contain no saturated fats. And they are packed with numerous health promoting compounds, minerals and vitamins. Fresh peaches are a moderate source of Vitamin C. Vitamin-C has anti-oxidant effects and is required for connective tissue synthesis in the body. Consumption of foods rich in vitamin C helps the body develop resistance against infectious agents, and help scavenges harmful free radicals. Peaches are also a moderate source of vitamin A, which is essential for vision.
When it comes to minerals, peaches are rich in potassium, fluoride and iron. Iron is required for red blood cell formation. Fluoride is a component of bones and teeth and is essential for prevention of dental caries. Potassium is an important component of cell and body fluids that help regulate heart rate and blood pressure.
Before eating, wash peaches in cold running water just before using. Like apples, sliced peach fruit sections turns brown (enzymatic brownish discoloration) on exposure to air due to conversion in iron form from ferrous oxide to ferric oxide. If you have to serve them sliced, rinse slices in water added with few drops of fresh lemon.
Because of the smaller crop, it may be a good idea to buy Illinois peaches when you find them.
To locate peach growers and farmers’ markets, go to speacialtygrowers.org/prairie-bounty.html or illinoiswherefreshis.com.
Here’s one of my favorite ways to celebrate the arrival of the Illinois crop – Grilled peaches and pork. The recipe is from Cooking Light magazine.
Grilled Peaches and Pork
4 (4-ounce) boneless center-cut pork loin chops
1/4 cup balsamic vinegar, divided
2 tablespoons fresh lime juice
3 teaspoons chopped fresh thyme
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/2 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
4 large peaches, peeled, halved, and pitted (about 12 ounces)
6 cups trimmed arugula
1 teaspoon granulated sugar
Place each piece of pork between 2 sheets of heavy-duty plastic wrap, and pound each piece to 1/4-inch thickness using a meat mallet or a rolling pin.
Combine 2 tablespoons vinegar, juice, thyme, salt, and pepper in a small bowl. Reserve 1 tablespoon juice mixture. Pour the remaining juice mixture in a large zip-top plastic bag. Add pork; seal and marinate in refrigerator for 1 hour, turning occasionally.
Preheat grill to medium heat. Place peaches, cut sides up, on a plate; drizzle with remaining 2 tablespoons vinegar.
Place pork on grill rack coated with cooking spray; grill 3 minutes on each side or until pork is done. Set aside.
Place peaches, cut sides down, on grill rack; grill 4 minutes or until soft and slightly browned. Turn and cook 2 minutes or until heated through. Cut each peach half into 4 slices. Slice pieces of pork into 1-inch-thick strips.
Drizzle trimmed arugula with reserved 1 tablespoon juice mixture, tossing to coat. Divide arugula evenly among 4 plates. Top with grilled pork strips and peach slices; sprinkle evenly with turbinado sugar. Serves 4.Per serving: 216 calories, 25.5 g protein, 12.7 g carbohydrate, 7 g fat, 65 mg cholesterol, .6 g fiber, 234 mg sodium.