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A postcard came from Pihl's Orchard a week or so ago: 'Peaches are ready!' it read. The card listed the farm's varieties and expected ripening dates and the price: 70 cents a pound, U-pick.

Kordell's Produce at Rosemont and Stafford roads has been advertising 'Eat over the Sink Peaches' - the description fits perfectly!

Thess messages can mean only one thing. Friends, we are in the peak of peach season, the most perfect fruit of summer.

Peaches have it all: Luscious texture, intoxicating aroma, delectable flavor and juices that go everywhere. Their only negative attribute is their delicate nature: peaches bruise easily.

Grocery store peaches just don't taste like fresh picked. To transport with minimal bruising, peaches must be picked while still pretty firm. At this firm stage, they haven't developed all their luscious flavor. As soon as they are picked, the ripening stops - that's as good as it will get. If you can buy peaches from the farmer or pick them yourself at an orchard, you will be rewarded with perfect peaches every time.

Peaches originated in China and spread to Russia and Persia (present-day Iran) by Chinese traders dropping peach pits along their trade routes. Alexander the Great and his armies found peaches in Persia and brought them to Greece. Over the centuries, peaches spread across Europe and we can thank Spanish explorers for bringing them to the New World in the 1500s.

Migrating from Latin America, peaches found ideal growing conditions in Georgia. The state's abundant output prompted the nickname 'the Peach State.' The migration advanced up the East coat and when the call to 'Go West, young man!' was heard, dried peaches hit the trail with the pioneers. Some were packed all the way to California with the Gold Rush.

There, two Sutter County farmers, A.F. Abbot and Joseph Phillips developed a variety of peach that, when canned, held its texture and flavor. By the turn of the century, The Cannery in San Francisco would become the largest peach cannery in the world.

Today California is the major peach producer in the United States, followed by Georgia and South Carolina. Most of Oregon's peaches are sold at roadside stands and U-pick orchards.

Hundreds of peach varieties have been tested in the Willamette Valley and the performance of each differs from one location to another and from one year to the next. Some of the most popular are the Redhavens, Suncrest, Veterans and Elbertas. I recommend you just keep taste testing until you find a favorite.

Peaches are stone fruits, meaning they have a big pit, or stone, at the core of the fruit. How easily the fruit comes away from the stone determines if the peach is a cling (clings onto the stone) or a freestone (easy to remove).

Peach fuzz can irritate a juice-dribbled chin; a gentle washing will remove the fuzz. To completely remove the skin, gently score an X on the peach opposite the stem end and drop into boiling water for about 15 to 20 seconds. The peach will peel easily with a paring knife.

You can enjoy fresh peaches from mid-July through mid to late September. And you can enjoy the fresh peach taste all winter, if you take the time to freeze some this summer.

Frozen peaches taste as wonderful as fresh for pies and other baked dishes. To prepare peaches for freezing, skin and slice the peaches either into thin half moons or bite sized chunks, then place them in a freezer bag, seal well and freeze.

Alice Waters, the woman I look to for instruction on how to cook any and everything, uses peaches and their leaves in dessert and entrée items on the menu at her Berkeley, Calif., restaurant Chez Panisse. She doubts anything could be simpler, or better, than a freshly baked peach pie.

Bon Appetit! Eat Locally!

Peach Pie

Makes one 9-inch pie

2 ½ pounds peaches, peeled and sliced (about 6 cups)

3 tablespoons quick-cooking tapioca

2 teaspoons lemon juice

1 pinch salt

¼ cup sugar plus more for sprinkling

1 tablespoon unsalted butter, cut into thin slices

Two 9 ounce pieces of pie dough (see recipe below)

1 tablespoon heavy cream or milk

Toss the sliced peaches in a large bowl with the tapioca, lemon juice, salt, sugar and butter. Cover the fruit mixture with a sheet of plastic wrap pressed against its surface (this prevents the fruit from oxidizing and discoloring). Let stand for 30 minutes so the peaches release their juice, plumbing the tapioca and dissolving the sugar.

Preheat oven to 400° F.

Roll out each piece of pie dough into a 13 inch circle, 1/8 inch thick. Line a pie plate with the first piece, letting the edges hang over. Pour the fruit mixture into the dough-lined plate. Cover with the second piece of dough. Using a small knife or scissors, trim the edges of the dough so that there is a ¾ inch overhang. To seal the pie, neatly fold up the overhanging dough so that it rests on the rim of the pie plate and pinch a wavy scalloped edge all around the pie by making indentations in the crust with your thumb and fingers. Roll out the scraps, cut out pretty decorations, and stick them to the top of the pie with a dab of water. Poke a few holes in the top of the pie to let the steam escape during baking. Lightly brush the pie with cream and sprinkle with sugar.

Bake in the lower third of the oven until the top of the pie is golden brown and thick juices bubble from the holes, about one hour. Let the pie cool on a rack for one hour. Serve with vanilla ice cream.

Pie Dough

Makes two 9-ounce pieces, enough for a double crust pie

2 cups unbleached all purpose flour

½ teaspoon salt

½ cup vegetable shortening

¼ pound (1 stick) unsalted butter, frozen and cut into ½ inch cubes

7 tablespoons ice water

Combine the flour and salt in a large mixing bowl. Drop the shortening into the flour mixture and work it in, using a pastry blender, until it has been cut into 1/3 inch pieces. Add the cubed butter and work it into the dought with a pastry blender until it is in pea-sized pieces. Sprinkle the water over the mixture and toss with your hands, not squeezing at all, but letting the pieces fall through your fingers until it is evenly mixed. The mixture will be crumbly and seem dry.

Divide the dough in half and wrap tightly in plastic wrap, pressing the dough into disks. Let the dough rest in the refrigerator for at least 30 minutes before rolling out. You can leave it for up to two days in the fridge or a week in the freezer.

When you are ready to roll out the dough, unwrap it one piece at a time. If is still seems crumbly, first knead it slightly until it comes together. Press it into a 4-inch disk, smoothing out any crakes at the edges. Using as little flour as possible, roll out each disk into a circle about 13 inches in diameter and about 1/8 inch thick. Brush all excess flour off the dough with a dry pastry brush. Transfer the sheets of dough to a baking sheet, cover wth plastic and refrigerate until you are ready to use them.

Adapted from Chez Panisse Fruit, by Alice Waters

Randall welcomes your food questions and research suggestions. She can be reached at 503-635-8811 or by e-mail at [email protected]

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