Many years ago I worked as an assistant at a small, progressive graduate school in Milford, Connecticut. Our offices were in the upstairs of the chancellor’s house, overlooking his peach orchard. From my desk I had a clear view of the rows of trees and a great stone monolith before them. On some summer afternoons I would walk through the rows picking stone fruit, feeling light. The job was not an easy one and I am trying not to idealize a muddled memory but those moments were deeply good. We were given a piece of dark chocolate each day at 3 o’clock and stood around the farmhouse table drinking frosty keg beer on Fridays. There were ideas in the air and a library of books in the barn. I didn’t stay long in the position, I never did then. Within a year I had decided it was time to see if teaching high school was right for me or not. (It’s not. Teenagers give me the creeps.) The next fall we were leaving the country indefinitely.
New England peaches fit in the palm of your hand. They are harder and heartier than their juicy Southern and ambitious Western cousins. When we were driving North from Mexico to Maine we bought a big brown paper bag full of fuzzy peaches from a farmer on the side of the road somewhere in Georgia. They were perfect. We ate them in the frigid cab of our U-HAUL, in between bags of jerky and fountain sodas. We ate them early for breakfast as we moved swiftly up I-95. We ate them under towering Carolina pines and finished the bag in our slick DC hotel room, too exhausted by the road and the July humidity to see more than the Lincoln Memorial. All heat is different. And while we’d adapted somewhat to the tropics the specific closeness of that midway metropolis is discouraging to outsiders. Those peaches were a lifesaver when room service failed to arrive.
Making this dessert for a summer dinner party is such a fantastic idea. The infused liquor is just sweet and aromatic enough to make it really interesting, enhancing the flavor and texture of the fruit. A peach becomes more conservative, more concentrated as it poaches. Less messy and erotic and quite civilized really. A slightly sweetened whipped cream is a heavenly balance. Peaches and cream. So simple. So summertime. So American somehow. An idealized America, perhaps. If the real America is deep fried Snickers bars wrapped in candy-coated bacon. But I’d like to think of the latter as a passing fad. I have seen America and it is real and rich and vast. It is abundant with trees and cows and a singular, if ever changing sky. From marshy shoreline Connecticut to the desert valley of southern California, I know these destinations, and they are good.
- 1 cup water
- 1/2 cup dry white wine
- 1/2 cup honey
- 1/4 cup granulated sugar
- 1 tablespoon vanilla extract
- Peel of one lemon
- 1 cinnamon stick, snapped in half
- 2 peaches, ripe but firm
- 1 cup whipping cream
- 1 heaping tablespoon powdered sugar
- Fresh mint, for garnish
- In a medium saucepan over medium heat combine all ingredients except peaches. Bring to a simmer.
- Slice peaches in half width-wise, remove the pit, and add them to the poaching liquid. Bring to a boil, then reduce heat to low. Cook 7-8 minutes.
- Remove peaches to a plate with a slotted spoon. Allow them to cool for a few minutes then carefully peel the skin. Turn up the heat on the poaching liquid, remove lemon peel and cinnamon stick and reduce until it is a light syrup, about 15 minutes.
- Meanwhile, whip the cream/sugar. Serve half of a peach, drowning in syrup, with a dollop of whipped cream, and a sprig of mint, room temperature or chilled.