Old-time Chinese orchardists treated peaches with such reverence that they could be planted only within the royal precincts of the emperor. Their peaches were classified in one of two ways: golden (yellow flesh) or silver (white flesh).
To the tribe of rare silver peaches belongs the mouth-watering peento (originally pan tao), the intensely flavored and odd-shaped peach known in North America as the “Saturn” peach. (Most U.S. peaches are yellow-fleshed varieties.)
Low in acidity, much sweeter than yellow peaches, and with almond overtones, Saturn peaches simply taste better than other varieties. Plus, they’re easier to eat out of hand. The tiny pit doesn’t cling to the white flesh—you can pop it out with your thumb.
Furthermore, Saturn peach trees produce an abundant harvest. The fruit’s thin red skin has little or no fuzz, so it doesn’t have to be peeled.
Because of its unusual flattened shape, this peach is sometimes called the “doughnut” peach. Many supermarkets package the flat peaches in long boxes like those used for doughnuts, and market them as a good-for-you snack food.
The Frost-Hardy Peach
This peach emerged in south China at least 200 years ago, and the tree was so tender that it could be grown only in a few places outside of its original habitat. However, the Rutgers Tree Fruit Research & Extension Center at Cream Ridge, N.J., changed that.
The original Chinese peach was not cold-hardy enough to grow in New Jersey, not even in the counties well known for peach culture. So the breeders at Rutgers, through a long process of trial and error, selected a strain of peento with frost-resistant buds.
This is critical because the tree blooms early—even before many cherry trees—and the masses of fluffy pink flowers make a spectacular show that rivals the most ornamental cherry trees.
This resistance to late frosts is what distinguishes the Saturn from its parent, and why it was given a new name. The name refers to the fruit’s resemblance to the rings of Saturn. And now the peach is spawning a raft of stranger nicknames that may create confusion at the supermarket.
For example, the yellow-fleshed version of the Saturn peach is called “Sweet Bagel,” and a very large-fruited Saturn peach has come out with the name “Jupiter.” Maybe this exotic peach deserves something a little more poetic—old Chinese poetry includes more romantic names such as “Moonlight Kiss” and “Morning Dew.”
Rutgers released the original Saturn peach about 15 years ago to Stark Bro’s Nurseries and Orchards Co., which was licensed to propagate the tree and sell it commercially.
The name refers to the fruit’s resemblance to the rings of Saturn.
Now that the license has expired, many other growers are offering it, and that’s why we are beginning to see this peach in stores across the country. The Saturn peach is also popular in the United Kingdom and other parts of the European Union.
Chinese Peach Soup
While it may seem criminal to cook Saturn peaches,* this 18th century Chinese recipe (from the court of the Ch’ing Dynasty) takes full advantage of their delicate flavor. It makes a great starter course either hot or cold. The following is an adaptation.
Makes 4–6 servings
- 6 tablespoons sugar
- 2 tablespoons cornstarch
- 2 cups peach juice (or water)
- 2 tablespoons butter (the Chinese use lard)
- 1 pound peaches, pared, seeded, and chopped into small pieces
- 1 tablespoon rose water
Combine the sugar, cornstarch, and juice or water in a work bowl, whisking until the starch is completely dissolved.
Heat the butter in a deep saucepan until it melts, and then add the sugar mixture. Add the peaches and cook over medium heat for 15 to 20 minutes, or until soft.
Pour this mixture into a blender or food processor and purée until smooth and creamy. Return the soup to the saucepan and bring it to a gentle boil. Remove from heat and add the rose water. Serve immediately or chill to serve cold.
*You may substitute another variety of fresh peach, but canned peaches will not work in this recipe.
Excerpted from MOTHER EARTH NEWS, the Original Guide to Living Wisely. To read more articles from MOTHER EARTH NEWS, please visit www.MotherEarthNews.com or call (800) 234-3368 to subscribe. Copyright 2012 by Ogden Publications Inc.
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