Every summer for a few years now, the season of our backyard Elberta peaches coincides with two very special people coming to stay. My husband’s cousin Julian and his wife Anya arrive, all set for a few days at the Australian Open. Their visit turns into an all-round tennis bender at our house – evenings watching tennis on TV, punctuated with rounds of totem tennis with the kids in the backyard, and the occasional board game. Eating peaches straight from the tree is a happy sideline.
On a previous quick visit in December, Julian inspected the small green peaches and told them to be ready by the 16th of January. Of course they were. He’s started thinking that there is no other peach worth eating, and it’s better to hold out for this annual stint at our house. I’m happy and a bit amazed that our tree obliges, on time and with an increasingly epic crop. Four and a half years old, it produced about four boxfuls of peaches this year – perfect yellow-fleshed fruit with barely a bug or worm in sight.
It occurred to me that our visitors get to enjoy these peaches in an especially beautiful, unburdened, in-the-moment way. A honeymoon compared to a long-term relationship. The joy of eating peach after peach with no responsibility. It feels nice that we can make this happen.
We love our peaches too, but the pleasure can tilt into thoughts of what, when and how we are going to deal with so many. A mature fruit tree is a call to its owner, especially this one, to conjure up ways to preserve and spread the bounty through the year. I think my own moments of real pleasure happen in the kitchen and at the table, when I’ve made something great from peaches, and the flavour creates a little tingle of magic of the here and now; of something grown just a few metres away.
This year I’ve had my first go at bottling. Stewing takes up freezer space, while bottling does not, and we can’t wait to see what these peaches are like on our winter breakfasts. I’ve also been working my way through all our peachey favourites.
Grilled peach and haloumi salad
This recipe actually hails from my first book, The Hungry Girls’ Cookbook. There are some cherished recipes in there, which I and many others still cook – but a few dishes could do with a makeover! This salad has evolved a little over the years, and I really wanted to showcase how beautiful it is to look at and to taste. Eaten on a warm night in the backyard – perhaps with roasted potatoes or chickpea bread on the side – it is one of the delights of summer.
large handful of green beans, topped and tailed (you can also use snow peas, but cook them very briefly)
1½ tablespoons lemon or lime juice
1 generous teaspoon honey
½ teaspoon salt
1½ tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil, plus extra for frying
1 small soft lettuce, leaves washed, dried and roughly torn
large handful basil (any variety – I sometimes use Thai basil), leaves picked
300 g haloumi or other Greek frying cheese such as kefalotyri, graviera or kasseri, cut into 1 cm slices
Bring a small pot of water to the boil and add the beans for a minute or two, then drain and set aside to cool.
For the dressing, combine the lemon or lime juice, honey and salt in a small bowl, stirring until the honey dissolves. Add the oil.
Cut the peaches in half and take out the stones. Heat a frying pan over medium heat and add a splash of oil. Swirl it around to cover the base of the pan, then add the peaches cut-side down. Fry for 2–3 minutes until the surface of the peaches is caramelised, then turn and fry for 2 minutes on the second side. Remove to a plate. You can serve the salad with warm or cooled peaches, as preferred.
Combine the lettuce leaves, basil and beans on a large platter. Drizzle with most of the dressing and toss well.
Clean out the pan used to fry the peaches, or use a separate pan. Heat it and add a little more oil, then add the slices of cheese. Fry for 2 minutes until golden, then turn and fry for a minute on the second side. Remove from the heat, leaving the cheese to stay hot in the pan.
Scatter the grilled peaches across the salad, and drizzle with the remaining dressing. Season with a little extra salt and pepper. Serve immediately with the grilled cheese on the side.
Serves 4, or 8 if serving as a smaller course