Peaches low-calorie, versatile fruit

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PRESERVING PEACHES

Although fresh, high-quality peaches are sweet tasting, they are low in calories, with one medium peach furnishing only about 37 calories. Yellow-fleshed varieties are a good source of Vitamin A. Remember, making peach jam or canning peaches in sugar syrup adds calories.

SELECTING PEACHES

For best quality, select peaches that are firm to slightly soft and free from bruises. The best sign of ripeness in a peach is a creamy or golden undertone, often called "ground color." The rosy "blush" on a peach is not a good indicator of ripeness and differs from one variety to the next. Fresh peach fragrance also indicates ripeness. Avoid peaches with a green ground color as they lack flavor and usually shrivel and become touch rather than ripen. Peaches that are picked green may develop more juice, but they will not become sweeter.

Peaches are classified either as clingstone or freestone, according to how difficult it is to remove the pit. Clingstone peaches are used primarily for commercial canning. Choose:

- Slightly under ripe peaches for pickling;

- Firm-ripe peaches for canning and drying;

- Fully ripe peaches for freezing or eating fresh;

- Very ripe peaches without any signs of mold or rot, for making sweet spreads.

USING AND PRESERVING PEACHES

Fresh Facts:

Firm ripe peaches, with good ground color will become fully ripe and soft in three to four days when kept at room temperature in a loosely closed bag or ripening bowl. Peaches are ready to eat when they give to gentle palm pressure. Peaches bruise easily if squeezed. Store fully ripe peaches in the refrigerator, and for best peachy taste, serve fragrant ripe peaches at room temperature.

If a recipe calls for peeled peaches, dip peaches into boiling water for about 30 seconds, then plunge them immediately into iced water. The skins will slip right off. Fresh peaches darken quickly when exposed to air. Powdered ascorbic acid (vitamin C) sprinkled on peaches or mixed with syrup keeps them bright and fresh looking for recipes or preserving.

Freezer Facts:

- Peach halves or slices packed with sugar or in sweetened syrup remain plumper and firmer than peaches packed without sugar.

- Use medium or light syrup to preserve the fresh fruit taste.

- Frozen peaches make excellent pies or cobblers. When preparing peach pie filling, be sure to account for the sugar added to peaches before freezing. Frozen peaches used raw in fruit salad or compotes are best served with a few ice crystals still remaining. If completely thawed, they will become mushy.

- Puree peaches, add a dash of lemon juice, sweeten to taste and freeze in small quantities to be used as topping for ice cream, yogurt, pancakes or waffles.

- Peaches can be stored in the freezer at 0 degrees F for eight to twelve months.

- One bushel (48 pounds) of peaches yields 32 to 48 pints for freezing.

Canned Facts:

- Use high-quality firm-ripe peaches without any mold or signs of decay for canning.

- For a safe home-canned product, peaches must be processed in a boiling-water bath.

- Open kettle canning is not safe for any product and is not recommended.

- Hot packing is recommended for all fruits because it is safer and makes fruit easier to pack in jars. Hot packed peaches are less likely to float than peaches canned by the raw-pack method.

- It is safe to can peaches without sugar either in juice or water. Peaches canned in light or medium syrup are firmer and have better color and flavor, however.

- Artificial sweeteners tend to turn bitter from the heat used in canning. If you are watching calories, it's better to can peaches in water or juice, and add artificial sweetener before serving.

Dried Facts:

- The quality of dried peaches is excellent.

- For drying, select firm-ripe peaches that are heavy for their size.

- Before drying, peaches are usually peeled and halved or quartered. The pit should be removed.

- Peaches require an anti-darkening treatment before drying to prevent browning.

- Dried peaches, slightly plumped, can be used in quick breads, chutney, cobblers, cookies, granola and pies.

Quick 'N' Fresh Ideas - Recipes

Use pureed fresh peaches in fruit punch, milkshakes and as a basting sauce to brush over grilled meat or poultry.

Peach halves are delicious barbequed. Sprinkle peaches with ginger and brown sugar, thread on skewers and grill until the sugar caramelizes. Serve with meat, fish or poultry.

For a quick breakfast make Peach Slush: In a blender, whirl until smooth 1 cup peaches (fresh or drained canned) with cup milk, 4 ice cubes and 1 cup (one 8-ounce container) of plain, lemon or vanilla yogurt. Pour into two chilled glasses and garnish with peach slice. If slightly frozen peaches are used, omit ice cubes.