The peach is a tree, Prunus persica, and the juicy fruit that it bears, which has a single large seed encased in hard wood (called the pit or stone), yellow or whitish flesh, a delicate aroma, and a velvety skin. Peaches, along with cherries, plums, and apricots, are stone fruits (drupes). Cultivated peaches are divided into freestone and clingstone varieties, depending on whether the flesh sticks to the pit; both kinds can be any color. Peaches with white flesh typically are very sweet with little acid flavor, while yellow-fleshed peaches typically have an acidic tang coupled with sweetness. Both colors often have some red on their skin. Low-acid white-fleshed peaches are the most popular kinds in China, Japan, and neighboring Asian countries, while Europeans and North Americans have historically favored the acidic, yellow-fleshed kinds.
The nectarine is a variant of peach that has a fuzzless skin. Though grocers treat fuzzy peaches and nectarines as different fruits, they belong to the same species. Nectarines have arisen many times from fuzzy peaches, often as bud sports. Nectarines can be white, yellow, clingstone, or freestone. Regular peach trees occasionally produce a few nectarines, and vice versa. Nectarines are more easily damaged than fuzzy peaches. The history of the nectarine is unclear; the first recorded mention is from 1616 in England, but they had probably been grown very much earlier in central Asia.
Peach trees grow well in a fairly limited range, since they have a chilling requirement that subtropical areas cannot satisfy, and they are not very hardy. A lot of summer heat is required to mature the crop. Important peach-producing areas are California, South Carolina, Colorado, Georgia and neighboring US states; the countries surrounding the Mediterranean; and parts of China.
Most peach trees sold by nurseries are grafted cultivars. The trees are prone to a disease called leaf curl, which usually does not directly affect the fruit but does reduce the crop yield by partially defoliating the tree. The fruit is very susceptible to brown rot.
Peaches should be located in full sun, and with good air flow. This allows cold air to flow away on frosty nights and keeps the area cool in summer. Peaches are best planted in early winter, as this allows time for the roots to establish and be able to sustain the new spring growth. When planting in rows, plant north-south.
Peaches should maintain a constant supply of water. This should be increased shortly before the harvest. Best tasting fruit is produced when the peach is watered throughout the season. Drip irrigation is ideal, at least one dripper per tree. Although it is better to use multiple drippers around the tree, this is not necessary. A quarter of the root being watered is sufficient.
Peaches have a high nutrient requirement, needing more nitrogen than most other fruit trees. An NPK fertilizer can be applied regularly, and an additional mulch of poultry manure in autumn soon after the harvest will benefit the tree. If the leaves of the peach are yellow or small, the tree needs more nitrogen. Blood and bone meal, 3-5 kg per mature tree, or calcium ammonium nitrate, 0.5-1 kg, are suitable fertilisers. This also applies if the tree is putting forth little growth.
Tips for good fruit
If the full amount of peaches is left, they will be undersized and lacking in sugar and flavor. In dry conditions, extra watering is important. The fruit should be thinned when they have reached 2 cm in diameter, usually about 2 months after flowering. Fresh fruit are best consumed in the day of picking, and do not keep well. They are best eaten when the fruit is slightly soft, having aroma, and heated by the sun.
Peaches in Asian Tradition
Botanists believe peaches are native to Persia, China and Asia where it became known not only as a popular fruit but for the many folktales and traditions associated with it. The word peach itself is a corruption of the Latin word Persica meaning Persian. Momotaro, one of Japan's most noble and semi-historical heroes, was born from within an enormous peach floating down a stream. Momotaro or "Peach Boy" went on to fight evil oni and face many adventures.
In China, the peach was said to be consumed by the immortals due to its mystic virtue of conferring longevity on all who ate them. Yu Huang or the Jade Emperor had a wife named Xi Wangmu also known as Queen Mother of the West. Xi Wangmu ensured the gods' everlasting existence by feeding them the peaches of immortality. The immortals residing in the palace of Xi Wangmu were said to celebrate an extravagant banquet called the Pantao Hui or "The Feast of Peaches". The immortals waited six thousand years before gathering for this magnificent feast; the peach tree put forth leaves once every thousand years and it required another three thousand years for the fruit to ripen. Ivory statues depicting Xi Wangmu's attendants often held three peaches.
The peach often plays an important part in Chinese tradition and are symbolic of long life. One example is in the peach-gathering story of Zhang Daoling, who many say is the true founder of Taoism. Elder Zhang Guo, one of the Chinese Eight Immortals, is often depicted carrying a Peach of Immortality.
Due to its luscious taste and feeling at touch, in ancient China "peach" was also a slang word for "young bride", and it has remained in many cultures as a way to define pretty young women (as in English, with peachy or peachy keen).
- Peach nutrition information (http://www.kallipolis.com/diet/food.php?id=9236&w=3)
- National Center for Home Food Preservation - Freezing Peaches (http://www.uga.edu/nchfp/how/freeze/peach.html)