When peaches are your passion, peach recipes help keep that love burning.
David Mas Masumoto, America's most famous peach farmer and advocate, and his family have piled up many ways to enjoy their precious crop. Wife Marcy and daughter Nikiko Masumoto share his pride and devotion to peaches. Together, they preserved their farm-to-fork wisdom in an equally delectable first cookbook.
"The Perfect Peach" (Ten Speed Press, $22, 176 pages) a compilation of decades of recipes and asides made its official debut Tuesday.
"Marcy and Nikiko did a fantastic job on the recipes," Mas said. "I got to add my 20 little essays to add the backstory.
"Our goal is to show the connection between farming, family and food," said Mas, the award-winning author of such books as "Epitaph for a Peach," "Harvest Son" and "Wisdom of the Last Farmer." "In most cookbooks, that's not obvious. They're written from a chef's viewpoint. We offer a perception you can't find unless you actually work the land.
"We want (readers) to develop a relationship with peaches and the people who grow them that's our message."
Added Marcy, "We wanted to show peaches' diversity. You can do so many things with peaches and there's so many things to know."
"Working together was awesome 99 percent of the time," said Nikiko, 27, with a laugh. "This was an extension of what we do all the time together. It's who we are; our temperaments are always combined."
With a master's degree in performance art in public practice, Nikiko returned to the Fresno area to carry on the family tradition and farm peaches.
"This is my destiny," she said.
The search for the perfect peach is never-ending, she added.
"For me right now, the perfect peach tastes so wonderful and gives you so much pleasure that you fall in love with the flavor all over again," Nikiko said.
Added Marcy, "It explodes in your mouth with flavor. It's both sweet and tart at the same time."
"The perfect peach triggers good memories," Mas said. "But for some people, they may have never experienced that moment. Without that memory, how do you know what you're missing?"
This year's weird weather has been both good and challenging for California peaches, Mas noted.
"With this hot weather, the crop is earlier," he said. "It's been such a warm, dry spring, the peaches are also smaller. The fruit may be size-challenged."
Added Marcy, "In a lot of recipes, smaller peaches work better."
Marcy gets credit for the cookbook's wealth of peach dessert recipes. "I'm a traditionalist," she said. "I'm a pie person. I love peach pie."
She offered her old-fashioned peach pie, including her tips for perfection. It's all about balancing the thickener she prefers tapioca or flour with the juice, then giving the finished pie enough time to set up before serving.
"I could eat peach pie all year long," Marcy added. "For pies, you want a peach that's sweet with some acidity, juicy but not too juicy." She prefers to use Gold Dust and Elberta, two varieties that stay firm when cooked.
Nikiko spearheaded many of the nontraditional peach recipes such as Shaking Beef, a stir-fried Asian-Californian fusion beef salad inspired by family friend Mai Pham of Lemon Grass Restaurant in Sacramento.
"I love the savory dishes," Nikiko said. "So often peaches are paired with pork, but they can go with beef, too.
"We spent two years consciously working on recipes," she added. "I've been recooking them lately (with the new crop of peaches), and I just made the peach gazpacho. It is so good I love it!"
Higher-acid yellow peaches work better in such savory dishes as peach bruschetta, Nikiko noted. The acidity adds to the flavor.
Gazpacho is a good dish for overripe peaches, too, she said. "You can use real juicy peaches for the gazpacho; those gushers that are so ripe, they're dripping with loveliness."
"The Perfect Peach" by Marcy, Nikiko and David Mas Masumoto (Ten Speed Press, 176 pages, $22) is available at Amazon.com and other booksellers.
Peach Week: The Masumotos and their peaches will take part in several events in the Fresno area starting Monday. For a list and locations of Peach Week events, visit www.masumoto.com.
Nutrition: One cup of fresh sliced peaches contains about 60 calories, almost all from carbohydrates. (One cup equals about one large peach.) Peaches are a good source of vitamins A, C and niacin. They also contain several antioxidants and minerals such as potassium, iron and copper.
Health benefits: High in fiber and low in calories, peaches have no sodium or cholesterol. That makes them a naturally healthy food, fresh, frozen or canned. Recent studies also show that compounds found in peaches may help fight off obesity- related diabetes and cardiovascular disease. Other studies linked peaches to fighting cancer cells, improving vision, reducing hypertension and easing side effects of irritable bowel syndrome.
Selection: With dozens of varieties available, California peach season stretches from late May through September, peaking in late June and July. Most varieties have a red blush, which indicates varietal traits more than ripeness. One pound yields about 3 cups sliced or 2 cups puréed.
Look for peaches that are firm to the touch but have a little give. They should be unblemished, free of nicks or bruises, with a warm, fragrant aroma. Mature peaches have a well-defined cleft and a soft glow.
Avoid peaches with any sign of green (they won't ripen fully). Peaches will soften off the tree, but their sugar content will remain the same.
Always treat peaches gently. Never drop them into a bag or basket they bruise.
To ripen: Place hard peaches in a brown paper bag punched with holes and place out of direct sunlight. Keep at room temperature. Check twice a day. Peaches can go from under-ripe to overripe in 24 hours.
Storage: Fresh peaches should be kept unwashed and stored at room temperature. Allow some space between each peach for air circulation. They'll keep three to four days. Wash just before using.
Refrigeration can extend their life, but only a couple of days. Refrigerate unwashed fruit in a loose plastic bag. Allow peaches to return to room temperature (at least 30 minutes) before eating. The flavor will be much fuller.
Freezing: Peaches frozen in a sugar pack keep much better than if frozen plain. Peel the fruit and add a few spoonfuls of sugar to slices before freezing. Always remove the pit before freezing; it can make the fruit taste bitter. If peaches are overripe, add citric acid or lemon juice to prevent browning.
Peeling peaches: Peaches are usually peeled before cooking, which can cause the peel to become rough and chewy. To peel a large batch of peaches, use this method: With a sharp knife, slash the skin with a shallow "X" on one side of each fruit. Dip fruit in boiling water for 30 to 45 seconds. With a slotted spoon, transfer the peaches to a bowl filled with ice cold water. The peels will slip right off.
Call The Bee's Debbie Arrington, (916) 321-1075. Follow her on Twitter @debarrington.