Green Salad with Peaches and Fresh Blackberry Dressing
Field Greens with Peaches and Fresh Blackberry Vinaigrette
by Victoria Challancin
We all have food memories, good and bad, associated with our families. Luckily for me, mine are all good, with the one exception of something called Busy Day Chicken that my Mom trotted out in the 60s. I can forgive her that one transgression, though, as the other memories are mainly stellar.
A Personal Ode to Peaches
Lots of pleasant personal memories surround peaches for me. And they all begin with my mother. My Mom and all her sisters one by one transplanted themselves from Georgia to Florida. They came from Georgia, famous for its peaches, to Florida, where there were none, or at least not in hot South Florida where they all chose to live. You can see where this is going, right?. Once in Florida, where in my youth good peaches simply did not exist, my Mom elevated peaches to some pedestal of culinary perfection. My older brother, who made regular trips to Georgia, always bought her a bussle of her beloved peaches and carefully nestled them, each carefully separated from the other, on soft clothing on the back seat of his car--which to my mother was an example of perfect filial love.
Other memories surround homemade ice cream. I realized that in today's world with its fancy ice cream machines and extraordinary flavors (we're not just talking Cherry Garcia here--I mean Chocolate and Chile, Avocado and Lime, Balsamic Strawberry, Bacon, Shrimp with Tequila, and more), my personal memories may seem peaked. We may have a wealth of riches to seize upon today, but in my youth of the 1950s, when we visited my grandparents in Georgia, there was just one flavor we even considered: Fresh Peach. Fresh peach from the orchard by my grandparents house. Fresh Peach Ice Cream made in a hand-cranked churn on which it was my job to sit during the churning process. Fresh Peach Ice Cream and no other. And to this day I don't think I've ever tasted better.
In San Miguel, we have local peaches, which are tiny, if tasty. The bigger peaches seem to come up from Chile and I don't think I have ever had a good one here. Mealy, hard, weak in flavor, they just don't measure up to my rigorous peach standards. So for this salad, I simply had to use the small local variety, which worked fine. But before I give you the recipe, here are a few notes on peaches.
A Few Notes on the History of Peaches
For those who hunger, as I do, for a bit of culinary history, let's examine briefly the history of peaches. Even though the botanical name Prunus persica (i.e. Persian apple) suggests that peaches originated in Persia, they are actually native to China, where they have been cultivated for thousands of years and were even mentioned in tenth century B.C writings as a favorite fruit of emperors.
Peaches travelled from China with the Persians along the Silk Road, who then introduced them to the Romans. The Spanish explorers brought the peach to the Americas in the 16th century and it eventually made it to England and France a century later. And the Portuguese introduced it to South America.
A Few Fun Peach Facts:
- Peaches are the second largest commercial fruit crop in the US, second only to apples
- Italy, China, and Greece are major producers of peaches
- Thomas Jefferson had peach trees at Monticello, but farmers didn't begin commercial production in the US until the 19th century
- Various Native American tribes are thought to have spread peaches by planting them as they travelled the land
- In China the peach is a symbol of longevity and good luck
- In many cultures peaches are used for protection against evil spirits
- Georgia is known as the Peach State
- Peach blossoms are highly prized in Chinese culture where they often appear in art and literature
- Peach kernels are a common ingredient in Traditional Chinese Medicine
- Peaches and peach trees figure into the folklore of China, Japan, Vietnam, and Korea
- Peaches are members of the Rose family
- Large doses of peach seeds, which contain cyanogenic glycosides, can be toxic and dangerous
- Caesar's legions carried both apple and pear seeds across Europe
- Under Roman rule, peaches were grown as far west as North Africa and Spain
- Peaches probably reached East Africa about the same time as did bananas and coconut, about 800 A.D. when they arrived with Indonesian Muslim traders in Madagascar, who spread them along the Swahili Coast
- Portuguese conquerors brought peaches with them to South America, where they were embraced
- The term "you are a real peach" came from the tradition of sharing a peach with a friend you liked
- There are over 700 varieties of peaches
- Nectarines are a variety of peach without the fuzz (NOT a cross between a peach and a plum as some think)
- Peaches bruise easily and should never be squeezed
- Peaches may taste better at room temperature, but they should be stored in the refrigerator
- Peaches are a good source of beta carotene, which helps fight some forms of cancer and lowers the risk of heart disease
- Peaches are a good source of vitamin C
- Peach trees are self-pollinating
- Peaches continue to ripen after picked
- Peach blossoms were carried by early Chinese brides
- True wild peaches are only found in China, which is one way we know they originated there
- A peach is classified as a drupe, a fruit with a hard stone
- Peach juice makes a wonderful moisturizer and can be found in many brands of cosmetics
...with the candied almonds...
Green Salad with Peaches and Fresh Blackberry Vinaigrette
This salad is a lovely tribute to summer with its sparkling, tangy fruit flavors. Both savory and sweet, the dressing is not only tasty, but beautiful as well. If you don't have fresh peaches, substitute another stone fruit such as nectarines, apricots, or plums--or use apple or pear slices (place in acidulated water first to prevent browning).
Cook's Notes: I wish I had had mixed baby lettuces to make this as suggested in the original recipe, but I simply used a nice leaf lettuce instead. The candied almonds were a nice touch, but I have made better; a touch of chile powder would be wonderful in the almond glaze. I was lucky enough to have fresh blackberries, though frozen would be fine. Although I used a goat cheese, I would prefer a gorgonzola. Roasted chicken (even a rotisserie chicken) or cooked shrimp would be a nice addition to this salad to make it a complete meal. If your blackberries are too tart, simply add a bit of honey or agave nectar to your dressing.
Green Salad with Peaches and Fresh Blackberry Vinaigrette
(Slightly Adapted from a recipe from Frenchfood.about.com)
1 1/2 cups frozen for fresh blackberries
1/2 cup olive oil
1/4 cup balsamic vinegar
2 cloves garlic, crushed and chopped
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/4 teaspoon ground black pepper
Honey or agave nectar, if needed (start with 1 tablespoon)
1/4 cup water
1/2 cup granulated sugar
1/4 teaspoon salt
1/4 to 1/2 teaspoon cayenne pepper (optional--not in original recipe)
1 cup almonds
4 cups petit greens or mixed lettuces of choice
2 peaches, peeled and cut into thin slices
1/2 cup crumbled blue cheese or goat cheese
To make the blackberry vinaigrette:
Place the blackberries in a small saucepan over medium heat and bring them to a simmer, stirring occasionally. Once the berries come to a simmer, remove the saucepan from the heat immediately. Puree the berries in a food processor or blender and then press the mixture through a fine to medium-mesh sieve to remove the seeds. Whisk the remaining ingredients into the seedless blackberry puree. Check and adjust seasoning to taste, adding a bit of honey if berries are particularly sour.
To make the candied almonds:
Bring 1/4 cup water, 1/2 cup sugar, 1/4 teaspoon of salt, and cayenne (if using) to a boil for 2 minutes. Add the almonds and continue cooking the mixture over medium-high heat until the nuts are coated in a thick sugar syrup. Spread the candied almonds on a lightly greased baking sheet to cool.
To assemble the salad:
Arrange one cup field greens on each chilled salad plate. Divide the sliced peaches, cheese, and almonds among each salad. Drizzle the salads with the blackberry vinaigrette and serve immediately.
Parting Shot: Do you know this fruit?
A newly available fruit from the market--do you know it? I'll write about it next week.
©Victoria Challancin. All Rights Reserved.
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