Urban Forager

Peaches are in peak right now.

Nothing epitomizes Okanagan summers more than peaches. Plump, rosy and exquisitely juicy, their natural sweetness works magic into dishes from desserts and mains to everything in between.

The South Okanagan is ground zero for the peach right now with farmstands brimming with baskets of the luscious stone fruit. Many people make their annual pilgrimage to our region for flats of fuzzy peaches, and both chefs and home cooks busy themselves preserving the late summer’s bounty.

Frozen, pickled, poached or sauced up in some form, peachy sweetness makes the winter months easier to swallow.

A relative of the rose, and the almond, aromatic peaches have been grown in the Valley since the late 1800s. There are many varietals with names such as Cresthaven, Glowhaven, O’Henry and Redhaven — the main freestone variety.

Of course, peaches are best eaten right off the tree with the juice dripping from your chin, but most all peaches are picked before ripeness to ensure their storability for transport. A few days on the counter, however, or sealed in a bag, they’ll reach their peak. Before that, they’re perfect for many kinds of recipes, bringing new flavours, textures and colours to the table, without reducing to mush.

Grilling for example, intensifies their sweetness by caramelizing the fruit, making them a wonderful accompaniment to cheeses such as burrata or ricotta, with maybe a drizzle of reduced balsamic or pomegranate molasses.

Served with grains such as bulgur or quinoa, and herbs such as mint or basil along with your best olive oil, you have a delicious lunch or dinner. Under-ripe peaches also work beautifully in slaws, thinly sliced or julienned with any kind of greens, even cabbage. Grilling peaches on a cedar plank also brings another level of flavour, served with planked salmon (see chef Ned Bell’s recipe below), or as a dessert served with honey, roasted hazelnuts and ice cream. Continuing the dessert course, they work best in simple galettes, tarte tatins and clafoutis, or try them poached with a vanilla bean in a light sugar syrup, exquisite served warm or cold with ice cream.

For perfectly ripe peaches, I urge you to try them in an unusual guacamole treatment from Diana Kennedy’s book, “My Mexico.” Crushed chilies, white onion and salt are mashed together before folding in ripe avocado, peaches, lime juice and halved green grapes. It’s absolutely delicious, with or without chips!

For further inspiration, I turned to the restaurants and bakers of the region, to see how they’re utilizing the power of the peach.

At the gorgeously renovated Naramata Inn, its restaurant steered by talented chef Ned Bell and his ace team, continues to deliver the hyper local goods with a celebration of peaches. They and other stone fruits will be woven throughout the lunch and dinner menus, in salads, on a lamb and beef burger, with Great Bear scallops, in dessert panna cotta and a signature chocolate cake, to name a few.

At Tratto Pizzeria, it’s move-over ham and pineapple and make way for their seasonal Peach City. Juicy slices of ripe peaches from Parsons Farm Market in Keremeos are laid over a pizza base of spiced olive oil, with hits of pungent washed-rind Taleggio cheese, fior de latte and pancetta bacon. The juicy, rich and sweet pie is presented with a flourish of micro greens.

At Bogner’s, chef Darin Paterson makes a charcoal grilled lacto-fermented peach-driven hot sauce fired up with serrano chilies. He makes enough to last throughout the year to use as needed, but the current menu touts a peach fattoush salad of crispy pita with mint, lemon, cucumber, radish and parsley, strewn with freshly picked basil from the restaurant’s herb garden.

At Elma, newly-minted chef Derek Ingram adds grilled peaches to whipped feta with radicchio from Penticton’s Plot Twist Farms. The beautifully refreshing salad gets a flourish of walnut dukkah, sesame seeds, Fresno chilies for punch, fresh mint and a drizzle of honey-thyme vinaigrette.

On the West Bench, the long-established Just Pies are concentrating their pie game these days with organic peaches from a Summerland orchard. The hefty pies encased in flaky pastry are also available gluten-free.

In Cawston, Row Fourteen restaurant sits pretty on the organic orchard and farm of Klippers Organics. It’s strictly farm-to-table here, and daily picked peaches shine in a dish of multi-coloured and textured tomatoes highlighted by fresh basil, tomato powder and onion ash. And a peachy dessert dish takes cues from complex Mexican moles by blending layers of flavours such as roasted sunflower seeds and pine nuts with charred and smoked peppers, honey and smooth Cacao Barry white chocolate.

Chef Jeff Van Geest of Miradoro at Tinhorn Creek gives the stone fruit its due in three different courses. A made-to-order pizza is layered with peaches, padron peppers and jamon Serrano with fior de latte and a drizzle of garlic-honey. For a sweet-sour-crunchy effect, organic peaches team up with sweet corn and pickled chanterelle mushrooms as an addition to a grilled thick cut pork chop, first brushed with a miso-espelette pepper and honey glaze.

And for dessert, it’s peach pavlova with lemon curd and fennel pollen cream. Van Geest uses exclusively organic ripe-from-the-tree fruit from fellow chef and neighbour Chris Van Hooydonk of Backyard Farm. Van Hooydonk, a talented chef and farmer tends to 30 trees on his heritage acreage in Oliver, with six varieties of peaches, including the beautiful white peach. They’re part of the medium for his seasonal bespoke catering menus, each one unique.

One recent dish used the tree-ripened peaches over blue corn meal and fennel crusted sablefish with smoked Walla Walla sweet onion and local corn budino. In addition to his successful and busy catering firm, Van Hooydonk creates a line of peach-to-jar vinaigrettes, chutneys and sauces, available through the farm’s website, or at Noble Ridge and Hester Creek wineries.

Further south in Osoyoos, cool down your palate at Roberto’s Gelato. Robert Klei adds to his 24-flavour repertoire with a blend of local and seasonal peach and apricot sorbetto, by the cup or cone.

There’s no better time to celebrate the peach.

With fork and pen in hand, and a passion for culinary adventure, Shelora Sheldan, a Penticton writer, cook and traveller, goes in search of the delectable.

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RECIPE

Planked Wild Salmon with Peaches, Thyme,

Honey, Almonds and Ricotta

(Edited for Brevity)

Serves Four

Two cedar planks, one for the fish, one for the peaches

1 1/2 lb skin-on salmon fillet, cut into four portions

Extra virgin olive oil

Sea salt and coarsely ground black pepper

4 sprigs thyme, leaves only, extra for garnish

4 peaches, nectarines or apricots, halved

2 Tablespoons honey

Flaked sea salt

4 oz (1/2 cup) fresh ricotta

Sliced toasted almonds, for garnish

Soak cedar planks in water for at least 30 minutes and up to a day before using. Preheat the grill to medium (about 350 F). Use paper towels to pat fish dry. Rub the fish all over with olive oil, and season both sides with salt and pepper. Sprinkle the thyme leaves over the salmon (leaving some for the peaches and for the garnish), and press to adhere.

Put the plank on the grill directly over the flames. Cover the grill and allow the plank to heat until starting to just smoke, about two minutes. Turn and repeat on the other side. Add the fish, skin side down, to the plank. Add the peaches to the other plank, cut side up. Drizzle the peaches with honey, sprinkle with most of the remaining thyme leaves and salt flakes, or sea salt. Cover the grill and cook 7 to 12 minutes or until fish is almost opaque and flakes easily, and the peaches, or other fruit are caramelized and tender. (If planks get too hot and ignite, spray them with water).

To serve, top each fillet with a couple of tablespoons of ricotta, sprinkle with almonds and garnish with remaining thyme.

*Alternatively, you can grill the salmon directly on an oiled grilled grate for 3 to 4 minutes per side, and roast the fruit in a baking dish in a 400 F oven for 12 minutes.

—Chef Ned Bell, The Naramata Inn