Sharing stuff I've learned, and things I've thought about...

Of peaches, corn and onions

When it comes to peaches, I never bother with those from California. It may be the variety, or it may be that they have to be harvested too early to make the trip cross-country, but they never soften up into that sweet juicy confection that a great peach can be. As a result, I buy southern peaches from Georgia and South Carolina all summer long. I try to buy about 6-8 peaches every two days and put them on the kitchen counter in a dated brown paper bag. This means that on any given day we have a bag of soft, ripe peaches, and a bag of peaches that are getting there.

However, the best peaches in the world come from Michigan. They have a unique but subtle tart quality that you don’t get in southern peaches. Unfortunately they don’t keep well or ship well, so no-one outside of Michigan and the vicinity know about them. They only come in late in the summer, about mid-August, and can only be had for maybe three or four weeks.

Similarly, we get this great bi-color sweet corn from Florida all summer, but when the Michigan sweet corn comes in, I won’t buy anything else. The percentage of perfect ears among the locally grown stuff is much higher and they’re outstanding. I’ve also changed how I cook them. We used to roast the corn on the barbecue grill in the husks, but I’ve found a much better technique. Shuck them, grease your hands and smear them with butter (a typical “pat” of butter will do about four ears of corn – you don’t need much) and put them directly on the grill until black spots appear on some of the kernels. A sprinkle of salt and freshly ground black pepper and you’re good to go. Two ears of this corn and a bowl of fresh collard greens makes a great late-summer meal.

Of course, the best sweet onions in the world are Vidalia Onions from Vidalia County Georgia. They start showing up in the produce departments in about April or May and are often available until the early fall, though some years they’ll disappear much too early in late August. Unfortunately, like Michigan peaches they don’t keep well, so sadly you can only stock up on so many of these beauties. I understand that the key to sweet onions is that they be grown in low-sulfur soil, as it’s sulfur dioxide in the onions and their fumes that interact with our saliva and mucous membranes to create dilute sulfuric acid leading to the tearing and “hot” sensation.

I’ve discovered that some of the onions sold as “sweet” when Vidalia’s aren’t available are anything but. Those big globular onions from Texas and other places are a good example. However, look for large sweet onions that are shaped like Vidalia’s – somewhat flattened. You’ll see these off-and-on throughout the cold months and always seem to come from Mexico or South America – Chile and Peru. They’re not quite as good as Vidalia’s but close enough to keep us happy until the next crop of Vidalia’s show up in late spring.