Driving home to Atlanta from Charlotte, NC a few weeks ago, we stopped at a roadside produce stand in South Carolina. They offered fireworks and flats of fresh peaches at rock-bottom prices. I felt guilty purchasing peaches there, I told the farmer. “We live in Georgia!” I confessed. “It’s almost sacrilegious to buy them from you.”
“I hear that all the time,” he laughed. “But I promise, give these peaches a few days and they’ll be the best you’ve ever had.”
A few days later, his peaches were ripe and they were definitely tasty. I ate them plain and blended them into smoothies. But the best I’ve ever had? I don’t know about that. When you live in Georgia during the summer, peaches are kind of a big deal. We’re the Peach State, and for good reason. Farmers markets, farm stands, and even the local grocery stores are loaded with the fruit. And the offerings are really, really, really good.
The next week, Xavier and I went to Nicaragua and spent ten days traveling there. After we returned, a hectic week forced us to eat out more often than not. Finally, almost four weeks after the South Carolina farm stand, I restocked our kitchen with plump Georgia peaches purchased from Publix, of all places.
A few days later, I found Xavier finishing the last of our store-bought peaches. “That farmer was right,” he said. “That was the best peach I’ve ever had.”
(I couldn’t help laughing, because this is an ongoing thing: my boyfriend has a tendency to either lose track of time, or believe that perishable foods last forever. He is always surprised and crestfallen when he reaches into the fridge with his heart set on leftovers and finds that last month’s chicken parm has been eaten or tossed. It’s adorable).
“Those were gone weeks ago,” I told him. “That was a Georgia peach.”
Sorry, South Carolina.
A good Georgia peach doesn’t need to be dressed up, but should you find yourself with an abundance of them, this is a great way to use your stash. It’s an elegant dessert with classy looks that bely its simple preparation. If you can mix ingredients in a pot and let them simmer, you can make this dessert pretty easily. Furthermore, it is utterly delicious. The syrup boasts a complex sweetness from cassia, vanilla, wine, and rum. It complements and elevates the flavor of fresh peaches.
What is cassia, you may ask? I asked that question last weekend when I stumbled into Penzey’s and saw it on display. That’s a good question. If you buy cassia in a store, chances are it will look like little rusty pebbles. These “pebbles” are actually bits and pieces of the bark of an evergreen tree. If this sounds unfamiliar, it won’t for long: most of the cinnamon available in the United States is made from ground cassia bark. I chose to use this in my recipe because I had a new bag of it on hand, but it’s ideal because the pieces of bark have lots of surface area. A little goes a long way, flavor-wise.
If you’ve got a grill, feel free to omit the sauteeing step and grill your halved fruit. Also, cassia may be difficult to find – if you don’t have it, you could swap a whole cinnamon stick or 1/2 teaspoon of ground cinnamon. But keep in mind that powdered cinnamon will change the mouthfeel of the finished sauce. Same thing with the vanilla: you could use extract or paste if you don’t have a whole bean just lying around (and I wouldn’t, if not for eBay).
Sauteed Peaches with Wine-Cassia Syrup
- Two large, ripe peaches, sliced in half with the pits and stems removed
- 1/2 cup dry white wine
- 1/4 cup plus one tablespoon sugar, divided
- 1 vanilla bean, halved (or 1/2 teaspoon vanilla extract or paste)
- 1 tablespoon rum
- 1 tablespoon cassia (substitute 1 cinnamon stick, or 1/2 teaspoon ground cinammon)
- 1 tablespoon honey
- 3 tablespoons butter, cold, divided
Combine all of the ingredients except the butter in a small saucepan. Bring to a simmer over medium heat and simmer until thick and syrupy, about 10-15 minutes.
Meanwhile, in a medium saute pan over medium-high heat, melt one tablespoon of butter with one tablespoon of sugar. When hot, place the peaches in the pan with the cut side down. Saute without moving until the peaches caramelize, about five minutes.
When the syrup has thickened, off the heat and add two tablespoons of cold butter, stirring with a spatula until smooth. Strain to remove the vanilla and cassia. Place peaches on serving dishes, pour the sauce over them, and serve.
Serves four as dessert.