Tortured Peach Salad

Iconic Georgia Peach,
Scarlett O'Hara*

Below the Mason-Dixon Line in the late 1800s, it was desirable for a woman to be considered a “Southern Belle” or “Georgia Peach.” A kind lady who was polite to everyone she met and never raised her voice lest she be accused of being a tomboy. While the requirements became more relaxed during World War II, ladies were still expected to act like, well, ladies. Growing up in the South during the late 1970s, I can attest to the fact that “unlady-like” behavior (climbing trees, rolling down dirt heaps, catching frogs) was still frowned upon. And, while I have never been afraid to get dirty (which worked out well since we lived on a farm,) I am probably what most of my Southern brethren would consider a “peach" (many with obvious sarcasm.)

That said, I am quite content to be the mother of two very active teenage boys. I have always been more comfortable around men than women. I like the way men think. You always know where they stand. They are not skilled (nor do they want to be) at the fine art of understatement which usually results in unbridled (often brutal) honesty. Their inability to candy-coat their thoughts or opinions is refreshing (except when it is directed at items in your wardrobe,) and preferable to the passive-aggressive, fibbing-to-preserve-your-feelings approach often employed by the gentler gender of the species.

Men take this same direct approach with food. In a restaurant, a woman might deliberate and fuss over a menu; asking for substitutions and sauce on the side, and then demurely pick at the dish to illustrate how dainty she is. Even the most sophisticated man, on the other hand, would order a huge T-bone, and then as politely as possible devour every morsel that could be civilly cut from the bone. This same refined man would then look across the table over the disseminated T-bone at his also-male dining companion and they would give each other imperceptible-to-all-others-approval to pick up their bones and ravage the remaining carnage like a lions on the savannah.

Conversely, I do not like big fat muddy boot prints all over my house. Men really have no patience or sensitivity for all things frilly and their concept of cleanliness does not quite jive with my own. So perhaps you can imagine my dismay to have contractors working in the house this week. It should be noted that all of these contractors are top-notch and I realize that some mess and disruption is inevitable. I even anticipated the extra use of water and power.

Nonetheless, my senses were assaulted by less-than-pleasant smells (weird chemical odors, cigarette smoke and something musty that I hope wasn’t sweat), loud noises (hammering, banging, pounding, dropping and the ever-present, too-loud radio half-tuned to a country station), piles of materials far and wide, wheelbarrows, drop cloths, and dirt; gritty, grime everywhere. To quote Cusco (of Disney fame) they “threw off my groove.” I dislike the invasion of my personal space and the feeling that I can’t be myself in my own home. Like George Carlin often said, “we like our own stuff and want to keep our stuff safe and keep others away from our stuff, don't we?” 
Once everyone left and the floors had been vacuumed, I was pleasantly surprised by the sweet scent of peaches. Dom had found gorgeous peaches at DeKalb Farmer’s Market that had been ripening on the counter and I knew at that moment that a salad of ripe peaches, fresh mozzarella and basil would be just the treat to reward myself for my patience and tolerance. Adapted from Jamie Oliver’s Naked Chef Cookbook, this salad (with its torn peaches and cheese ripped into bit-sized shreds) seemed oddly appropriate after a torturous day of refurbishments. Jamie's recipe includes a few thin slices of prosciutto or Iberico ham (again shredded into strips), but I think I will go without any manly embellishments this evening.

  • 2 ripe peaches, pitted, torn
  • ½ cup fresh mozzarella cheese, torn
  • 2 cups fresh arugula, mache, or cress
  • 1 tablespoon lemon juice
  • 2 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil
  • salt and fresh ground pepper
  • dried red pepper flakes (optional)
  • fresh basil leaves

Tear peaches into bite-sized pieces, capturing all juices! Whisk peach and lemon juice, olive oil, and salt and pepper together. Toss the salad with half the dressing and add more only as needed so as not to drown the salad greens. Drain the fresh mozzarella and tear into chunks. Arrange the peach wedges and ripped mozzarella on top of the dressed greens. Top with basil leaves and a sprinkling of red pepper flakes to taste.

Now for the obligatory lesson on how to select the perfect peach:

Peaches fall into two major categories; clingstone and freestone. Clingstone peaches have a firm flesh that “clings” to the pit and can be removed by slicing with a knife. Clingstone peaches are the first peaches offered every summer and are known to hold their shape. Freestone peaches are available later in the growing season and have juicy, soft flesh that is easily separated from the pit. These peaches taste great eaten out of hand and make a cook’s work easier in the kitchen. There is no discernible taste difference between freestone and clingstone peaches.

I know you are also wondering what the difference between a white peach and a traditional yellow peach? White peaches have a pearl, pink blushed skin, white flesh and pink seed. White peaches are less acidic resulting in a sweet fruit with essences of honey and vanilla and without the familiar tang of yellow peaches.

The key to choosing the best peaches (whether clingstone, freestone, white or yellow) is to feel and smell the fruit. Look for peaches that are somewhat firm yet yield lightly to pressure when applied. When you can smell the sweetness of a peach without even taking a bite, then you know that fruit is ready to eat.  Color is rarely a good indicator of the readiness of a peach.

*June 2011, Atlanta celebrates the 75th Anniversary of Margaret Mitchell's classic novel "Gone with the Wind.