by D.A. Salazar, MG Class of 2009
Prunus persica. What a spinsterish name for such a delectible thing. I mean “Prunus”? When did that ever denote luscious juicy sumptuousness? Who ever bit into a peach and thought, “Ahhh, prunus”??
Of course, it’s easy to take the peach for granted: modern peaches come in hundreds of cultivars — a fruit so adaptable we can now look forward to fresh peaches in season all summer long. But la pêche is an ancient and experienced wanderer, inspiring art and culture throughout its history.
Once thought to have originated in Persia — hence, “persica” — botanists now believe the peach was first cultivated in China over 4000 years ago, and in Chinese mythology peaches, peach trees, peach blossoms, peachwood and even peach pits have long symbolized longevity, vitality, comradeship, and protection from evil spirits. (Even the phrase “bitten peach” was coined in ancient China.) From the great Sinae, Persica then made its way through India and Western Asia, including Persia, where it met Alexander the Great and traveled with him to Greece, settling throughout the Mediterranean for a while, then ping-ponging across the Atlantic — first to the New World with Spanish and Portuguese conquistadors in the 16th century, then back across to England and then to France in the 17th, and meanwhile meandering the Native American trade routes north to Canada.
You can trace the peach’s wanderlust through the artwork it has inspired: Shitao’s riverbank;
a wall painting at Herculaneum; Van Gogh’s peach trees; the Peachoid of Gaffney; even contemporary tattoo art.
Today, worldwide peach production tops 21 million metric tons — more than 46 billion pounds. While there are hundreds of cultivars, there are only two categories: freestone and clingstone. Freestone peaches have pits that come away easily from the flesh, while clingstone, well, don’t. (Duh). In any case, their short shelf life is why we have so many varieties — more variety makes for a longer growing (and selling) season.
(Nectarines, by the by, are also a variety of peach, their fuzzlessness caused by a recessive gene that has been cultivated, and nectarines can still show up unannounced as bud sports on peach trees.)
Nutritionally, the average peach (about 100 grams, the edible fleshy part) has 38 calories, 9.54 grams of carbohydrate, no cholesterol, no sodium, a quarter of a gram of fat, and 27% of your daily Vitamin A, 15% of your Vitamin C, plus six B vitamins, iron, calcium, potassium, and zinc.
And that’s not all! Recently, a team of researchers, including WSU food scientist Giuliana Noratto, discovered that peaches slow breast cancer growth, and can inhibit metastasis as well.
So! All the more reason to try these tantalizing peachy recipes. Just click to download a printable copy. Prunus never sounded so good!