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Desserts are just peachy

Peach desserts are favorites in the summer. Here are tips for getting the best peaches at the peak of ripeness. Don't buy peaches with your eyes. Size and redness do not determine flavor.

Don't buy a peach that is green around the stem; it was picked too soon and didn't have a chance to develop its sugar content. The peach will soften but not ripen, giving it that mushy quality.

To pick the perfect peach, squeeze it slightly in your palm. It will yield a little if it is getting ready to ripen.

To ripen a peach fully, put it in a brown paper bag, seal it and leave it on the counter. It should ripen within two days.

The stone doesn't cling to the fruit of a freestone peach. The most famous freestone is the Elberta, an excellent canning peach, but there are numerous new freestone varieties available, such as the Suncrest.

Here are some quick recipes for using peaches from a variety of sources:

To grill a peach, cut it in half, remove the pit and sprinkle with brown sugar on the cut side. Brush the grill with vegetable oil and place the peach, cut side up, on the grill.

Turn the peach as soon as the sugar melts, about 6 minutes, and continue to grill until soft, another 2 minutes. Pull the charred skin from the peach and toss it away. From James McNair's Grill Cookbook (Chronicle Books).

Blanch 2 pounds of peaches in boiling water. Peel and de-stone. Cut up into a blender. Add 1 cup water and blend until smooth.

In a medium saucepan, combine peaches, } cup pineapple juice and { cup sugar. Simmer over low heat until thickened, stirring often.

Serve as a dessert topping, cake filling or glaze for baked ham, poultry or pork. Mix with yogurt, cream cheese or sour cream as a snack or dessert. From Barry Ballister's Fruit and Vegetable Stand (The Overlook Press).

In a 1-cup glass measure or small bowl, heat { cup caramel sauce on high for 2 minutes. Place 1 sliced peach in another bowl. Cook on high 2 minutes, until juices boil. To serve, place 1 slice pound cake on a plate, add 1 scoop of vanilla ice cream. Cover with caramel sauce and peaches. From 365 Quick & Easy Microwave Recipes (Thelma Pressman, Harper & Row, Publishers)

Combine 2 peaches, peeled and sliced, \ cup instant non-fat dry milk powder, \ cup plus 1 tablespoon peach nectar, 4 ice cubes and { teaspoon vanilla extract in a blender. Process until smooth. Serves 2. From Light Desserts (Beatrice Ojakangas, Oxmoor House).

Fresh Peach Dessert

12 vanilla wafers

1 tablespoon corn oil margarine, melted

\ teaspoon ground cinnamon

{ cup sugar

3 tablespoons cornstarch

1 12-ounce can peach nectar

1 tablespoon lemon juice

[ teaspoon ground nutmeg

\ teaspoon almond extract

4 cups peeled, sliced fresh peaches

1 cup vanilla low-fat yogurt

Place vanilla wafers between 2 sheets of wax paper and crush with a rolling pin to yield } cup crumbs. Combine cookie crumbs, margarine and cinnamon, stirring well to mix; spread evenly on a baking sheet, and bake at 375 degrees for 7 minutes or until lightly toasted. Set aside.

Combine sugar and cornstarch in a large saucepan, stirring well to blend. Add peach nectar, lemon juice, nutmeg and almond extract, and bring to a boil.

Reduce heat, and simmer, stirring constantly, until thickened and clear. Remove from heat and let cool. Add peaches, stirring gently to coat.

Layer cookie crumbs and peach mixture evenly in 8 individual custard or sherbet dishes. Cover and chill thoroughly. Top each dessert with 2 tablespoons vanilla yogurt just before serving. Serves 8.

Source: "Delicious Ways to Lower Cholesterol," developed by Nedra P. Wilson, M.S., R.D., and Susan M. Wood, M.A., R.D.

Peach Cobbler

8 cups sliced peaches

2 cups sugar

3 tablespoons all-purpose flour

{ teaspoon nutmeg

1 teaspoon vanilla flavoring

cup butter or margarine

Pastry for double-crust pie

Vanilla ice cream

Combine peaches, sugar, flour and nutmeg in a dutch oven; set aside to allow syrup to form (approximately 15 minutes). Bring peach mixture to a boil; reduce heat to low and simmer 10 minutes or until peaches are tender. Remove from heat and stir in vanilla margarine.

Roll half of pastry to [ inch thickness; cut into a circle to fit a 2-quart baking dish. Spoon half of peach mixture into lightly buttered baking dish; top with pastry. Bake at 475 degrees Fahrenheit for 12 minutes or until lightly browned. Spoon remaining peach mixture over baked pastry.

Roll remaining pastry to [ inch thickness and cut into 1 inch strips; arrange in lattice design over peaches. Bake an additional 15-20 minutes until browned.

Allow to cool slightly before serving. Serve with vanilla ice cream. Serves 8.

Source: Georgia Peach Commission.

Peach Shortcake

{ cup butter

2 cups self-rising flour

} cup buttermilk

1 tablespoon sugar

3 cups sliced peaches

3 tablespoons sugar

Fresh whipping cream

Cut butter into flour with pastry blender until mixture resembles coarse meal. Add buttermilk and sugar until all dry ingredients are moistened. Turn dough out onto lightly floured surface and knead 3 or 4 times.

Roll dough to } inch thickness; cut with a 2 inch biscuit cutter. Place close together on a lightly greased baking sheet. Bake at 425 degrees Fahrenheit for 13-15 minutes.

While shortcake is baking, place sliced peaches in a bowl and stir in sugar.

To serve: Split shortcake in half and place peaches on bottom half. Place other half on top and spoon on whipping cream. Serves 12.

Source: Georgia Peach Commission.

Peachy Chicken-Filled Pitas

{ cup plain yogurt

\ teaspoon ground cinnamon

[ teaspoon salt

2 whole medium chicken breasts (1{ pounds total) halved lengthwise, cooked and chilled

2 medium peaches, peeled, pitted and chopped

cup chopped celery

\ cup chopped pecans

4 large pita bread rounds, halved crosswise

Spinach leaves or alfalfa sprouts

In a small mixing bowl stir together yogurt, cinnamon and salt. Remove meat from chicken breast bones; cube meat. In a large mixing bowl combine chicken, peaches, celery and pecans. Add yogurt mixture, then toss to coat. Chill, if desired. To serve, line each pita half with spinach leaves or alfalfa sprouts.

Spoon about cup filling into each pita half. Serve at once. Serves 4.

Source: Poultry, Better Homes and Gardens, Meredith Corp., Des Moines, Iowa.

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