The Sweetest Peaches

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My grandparents used to have a condo in Michigan where they’d escape to every summer. It was on a small, quiet lake in a small, quiet town two-and-a-half hours north of Chicago. There was a tiny kitchen, a dining room, a patio, and two bedrooms, one only large enough to hold a set of twin beds. They bought it before the lake became a popular destination, before you had to be wealthy to live on the water, before large condos were built with granite counter tops and air conditioning. My family made the trek up a few times a year. My siblings and I spent the days swimming in the cold water, collecting sea weed, and covering ourselves in sand. At night the adults would grill chicken and corn on the cob and I would get Kraft Mac’n’Cheese. The TV had about seven channels and had to be changed using a knob, but we weren’t allowed to watch TV, because we were on vacation and we don’t watch TV on vacation, Al. When we were very lucky we got to drive down to the video store in town to choose one VHS to watch, and we almost always chose Wayne’s World. This is my ideal version of summer- lakes and ceiling fans and corn on the cob and memorizing movies. And Michigan Peaches.

Michigan Peaches were the ones my grandparents would bring by the sackful. They were ripe and floral and sweet, just waiting to be bitten so they could explode with juice over my arms and shirt. Michigan Peaches were the height of summer, the best possible idea of what fruit could be. They were effortless perfection, a barometer to measure all other other peaches against. Of course I took them for granted.

Now perfect peaches are not easy to find. The peaches I find in the store are often hard and unlovable. They are not the perfect embodiment of summer. Despite what I want, and so many cookbooks and blogs promise,  our produce isn’t always perfectly ripe. Sometimes our fruits and vegetable need some help, which is fair. I need help to be my best sometimes too.

I pulled together this peach salad after I volunteered to bring a salad to am indoor picnic and started leafing through Genius Recipes for ideas. This peach salad is fast, easy, and damn good. The sugar sweetens the peaches and helps them behave more like their best self, while the salt and pepper steer the peaches away from being too sweet. We ate the peaches on bread smeared with brie and licked our fingers in between bites. And even though the peaches weren’t perfect Michigan Peaches they still were summer incarnate.

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Unripe Peach Salad

adapted from Genius Recipes by Kristen Miglore

I added the lime juice to this recipe for some brightness. It also keeps the peaches from running too sweet. You could leave out the lime juice and pepper and decrease the salt and turn it into a lovely dessert with some ice cream. Next time I make these I’ll be adding some shallots and thinly sliced Fresno peppers for a savory twist.

2 1/2 pounds unripe peaches (about 6 medium)
1/4 cup sugar
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/2 teaspoon ground black pepper
2 tablespoons olive oil
juice of one lime (about 2 tablespoons)
2 sprigs fresh mint, leaves picked and thinly sliced

Peel the peaches and slice into wedges. It’s easiest to pull the wedges off as you slice them- there’s less struggling with the pit that way. Toss the peach segments in a medium bowl with the sugar and salt, and let sit undisturbed for ten minutes.

Add in the pepper, oil, lime juice, and mint and stir well to combine. You can serve right away at room temperature, or store it in the refrigerator to serve cold later. The longer you wait the softer the peaches get. I found them perfect after about three hours of sitting. Miglore warns that the peaches will become mushy if they are kept overnight. I ate them for breakfast the next morning and still enjoyed them, but wouldn’t keep them much longer.

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