I received these books back in March, and I chose not to torture you then with recollections of orchards spangled with peaches and dusty tomatoes warm off the vine. But the time for these books has come and they will help you fully enjoy the too-short season.
Peaches surely are an iconic food of the south. They are shorthand for the women of Georgia—and southern experiences from rafting the Chattahoochee River to gulping down cold cokes and hot boiled peanuts. Humble and sensual, they are summer captured.
Alexander starts the book with some history. Apparently, peaches and other stone fruit originated in China, was cultivated throughout their empire by the Romans, and came to the New World with the Spanish. The peach belt runs from New Jersey to Maryland, one cultivar took hold in Georgia that has come to epitomize peachiness. The Elberta peach is large, buttery, firm, and yes, iconic.
And something so delicious is rarely good for you, but from the early season clingstones to the late season freestones, peaches are good for you. A medium peach has only about 38 calories, is high in vitamins A and C, and has fiber. It’s the crust, crisp, and cream that will get you.
The recipes begin with desserts, of course and Alexander begins wisely with The Best Peach Ice Cream, a recipe that will inspire memories of July 4th parades and summer picnics. Once a year I manage to catch a scoop at the local ice cream shop, but this one is worth making yourself and maybe sharing—egg yolks, brown sugar, vanilla bean, milk, cream, and perfectly ripe peaches—half mashed and half chunks.
Pies, crisps, upside down cakes, poached in red wine, doused in bourbon cream, bruleed and fried. For breakfast, in appetizers, salads, and main dishes, sauced into chutneys and salsas. Raise a Bellini and head to the farm stand.
While you’re there, pick up some tomatoes, the most anticipated garden produce of the season. Unlike zucchini, which everyone is always trying to sneak into cakes and soups, tomatoes are prized—and enjoyed front and center.
Rubin admits that while tomatoes are loved in every region, with backyard gardeners boasting over the size and succulence, many iconic Southern dishes rely on tomatoes—from fried, green to delicately layered in Vicksburg Tomato Sandwiches.
Rubin includes some classics in the book—Bloody Mary’s, BLTs, Tomato Aspic but ventures farther with Matbucha, a spicy Mediterranean simmer of tomatoes, peppers, and garlic. This stew calls for some really good crusty bread or will serve as a quick supper when you poach an egg in it.
Southern tastes come out in Simmered Tomatoes with Okra and Bacon, Savannah Red Rice, and Baked Garlic-Cheese Grits with Tomato-Crunch Topping, which I find to be a nearly perfect comfort food. Rubin gooses the classic caprese salad of mozzarella and basil with roasted peppers, and then goes on to balanced combinations of peaches, pecans, and tomatoes or watermelon, feta, and tomatoes.
Chapters on sauces, preserves and juices, and desserts will help you handle any glut, should you be so lucky. So eat the first (and maybe the second) with some flaked sea salt and then get in the kitchen.