If you love peaches the way we love peaches, then there’s no time of year with desserts half so good as summer. And if you grow peaches, either as a business or as a hobby, then you have all the more motivation to enjoy them.
Some years ago, after driving 14,783 miles all over Texas to write a book about barbecue – no one’s ever done that, I know! – I decided my car didn’t have enough miles on it and I should do something similar with peaches.
Climbing behind the wheel with notebook, camera, a few pairs of jeans and a significant tolerance for sweets, I drove deep in the Hill Country of Texas (Fredericksburg, with a side order of Stonewall), to my home state of Louisiana (where the finest peaches come from up north in Ruston), then also to Alabama (Chilton County, which I’d heard about when I worked with the Southern Living food folks in Birmingham), Georgia (the Peachtree Everything State) and South Carolina (the largest peach producer in the South).
On a kind of whim, besides wanting some beach time in Key West, I finally added the peach orchards of Florida to my itinerary. Yes, Florida – where some growers were replacing their famous orange groves around Orange County (think: Orlando) with peaches. It turns out the University of Florida had developed warm-weather peach varieties to grow in places like Morocco and Sicily, and somebody was smart enough to ask: Why not here?
Even though I never came close to driving 14,783 miles tasting just-picked peaches in the field and more than a handful of cobblers, it was a fascinating trip, with my news reporter’s curiosity fully engaged. I learned about old families and new family squabbles. I heard about a farm system in which bigger is better for staying in business but seldom better for flavor. I listened intently as fathers and grandfathers told me about kids who just don’t want to work anymore – though mostly because they are studying to be doctors, lawyers or engineers.
And I learned more than I ever expected about immigration and labor laws, since in most peach-growing areas, traveling brigades of seemingly tireless Hispanic workers had replaced local school kids, not least because today’s peach season starts before schools let out and runs until after schools start up again. I scribbled a whole lot of notes about federal laws, at least some of which made sense when it came time to write “Peaches: A Celebration of America’s Sweetest Season.”
I was remembering that entire experience, and all those young and not-so-young faces in my six states of photographs, just the other day. So I bought some fresh peaches and went into the kitchen to fix some dessert in their honor.
PEACH & PECAN POUND CAKE
The secret here is that, while any part of this dessert is fine all by itself, all parts take on extravagant deliciousness when served together. It’s a perfect sweet summer finale, using our favorite fruit of this or any other season. The broiling with brown sugar and pecans makes the peach halves even sweeter than you and they ever knew they could be.
6 ripe peaches
¼ cup brown sugar
1 cup chopped pecans, divided
1 ½ sticks unsalted butter, softened
4 ounces (1/2 package) cream cheese, softened
1 ½ cup granulated sugar
3 large eggs
1 jar Fischer & Wieser’s Amaretto Peach Pecan Preserves, divided
1/s teaspoon vanilla extract
½ teaspoon almond extract
1 ½ cups all-purpose flour
1 teaspoon lime zest
¼ cup whole milk
¼ cup cognac brand
Vanilla ice cream
Set broiler on high. Cut the peaches in half with the skin on, scraping out the bits. Arrange on a baking sheet, sprinkle on top and especially center with brown sugar and some chopped pecans. Set under the broiler until lightly browned on top, about 10 minutes. Let cook. Meanwhile, preheat the oven to 350, lowering the temperature from broil. In a large mixing bowl, use an electric mixer to beat the butter and cream cheese together until fluffy, then add the granulated sugar and beat. Add the eggs, 2 tablespoons preserves, vanilla and almond extracts, beating until smooth, then mix in the flour, lime zest and milk until incorporated.
Spray 2 loaf pans with vegetable spray, or rub with butter, or both. Divide the batter between the pans and bake in the oven until golden brown and a toothpick inserted in the center comes out clean, about 45 minutes. Let cool in the pan at least 20 minutes, then remove the cakes and cool completely. Make the sauce by heating the remaining preserves with the brandy. When ready to serve, slice the cakes to desired thickness and arrange 2 slices per serving. Place broiled peaches on the top or side, then add the ice cream, sauce and a sprinkle of remaining chopped pecans. Serves 6-8, with some cake left over for breakfast.