Sharon Tanguay of Westbrook reaches for a Starfire peach at Libby & Son U-Picks farm in Limerick. Photo by Derek Davis

Maine’s luscious peach crop is ripening a little later than usual this year, but the first of the fruit probably will be ready for picking sometime this week. But for a handful of Maine chefs, peach season began in July.

The peach trees entered the summer thick with fruit, requiring growers to thin them to keep limbs from getting overcrowded and heavy, and to encourage the remaining fruit to grow larger. Usually the unripe fruit trim goes to waste, Colleen Hanlon-Smith at Locust Grove orchard in Albion said. But this year some of those undersized green peaches, as well as the leaves from the pruned-off limbs, have been sold to restaurant kitchens around the state.

Green peaches can be pickled, Hanlon-Smith said, or made into peach umeboshi – normally a Japanese fermented underripe sour plum that’s eaten with rice. As for the leaves, they can be used to add flavor to custards, ice creams and cordials, imparting the taste of toasted almonds.

Green peaches and peach leaves from The Locust Grove orchard in Albion ready for delivery to Hugo’s restaurant in Portland. Photo by Colleen Hanlon-Smith

Hugo’s restaurant in Portland was one of the first to snatch up the green peaches and peach leaves from Locust Grove. At Hugo’s, chefs packed the unripe peaches in salt with shiso leaves that chef/co-owner Mike Wiley grows in his home garden. (Shiso is a mint-like herb used in Japanese cooking.) The peach umeboshi will now age at least a year.

“It’s one of those things, like prosciutto, where you have to be really patient, and you’ll be rewarded with something that’s really, really special,” Wiley said.

Wiley said the restaurant has made umeboshi before, but with plums or husk cherries, not peaches. “What’s exciting for us is we don’t know how it will turn out,” he said.

He is already anticipating how Hugo’s will use the umeboshi. It has a strong flavor that requires a light touch, Wiley said, so the chefs usually mince or puree the fruit, then dilute it with oil or broth to make a sauce or vinaigrette to finish rice or fish dishes.

Hugo’s bought 10 pounds of the green peaches, enough to make umeboshi to last well beyond peach season, “probably years,” Wiley said.

The salt that the peaches are packed in draws liquid out of the fruit. The restaurant likely will strain that liquid and use it to flavor ferments, or to brine chicken or pork, Wiley said. Then the shiso leaves can be dehydrated and ground into a seasoning that’s sprinkled onto dishes like a finishing salt. The flavor, Wiley says, is “incredible. It sounds like synesthesia but it tastes like purple.”

The peach leaves went to Hugo’s pastry team, who used them to make peach leaf cordial. The cordial, in turn, is being used in peach leaf caramel, itself used to fill bon bons on the menu now. The leaves also have been infused into ice cream.

Hugo’s isn’t the only restaurant that’s discovered the possibilities and pleasures of these unusual ingredients. Justin Bard, head chef at Meridians Kitchen & Bar in Fairfield, got quizzed by his boss when the bill came in for the green peaches and peach leaves Bard purchased from Locust Grove.

“My boss came in and said, ‘What are you doing with peach leaves, man?’ ” Bard said.

Bard has been experimenting with them and says his boss now approves. The chef combined the peach leaves with hibiscus to make a tea for cocktails, and he’s muddled the leaves for another cocktail called the Savannah Grove. A play on a whiskey sour, the Savannah Grove is made by combining the muddled leaves with ingredients like bourbon, vanilla, brown sugar, rum and lemon. Bard shakes and strains the concoction, then serves it over ice with a jaunty peach leaf garnish.

The peach leaf, he said, has “got this subtle sweetness and this essence of peach, but it’s not overpowering. It’s really simple and fun.”

The Savannah Grove, a cocktail made with muddled peach leaves at Meridians Kitchen & Bar in Fort Fairfield. Photo by Justin Bard

Bard, too, is making umeboshi, which he ages for just 10 days. He’s also made green peach relish – with orange peel, ginger and shiso; he plans to use the relish with pork and on a charcuterie board.

And also…

There’s nothing quite so sublime in August as a big, tree-ripened peach. Here you’ve got plenty of options, including biting into a fresh one in a pick-your-own orchard. Aaron Libby, owner of Libby & Son U-Picks in Limerick, says his orchard also will be selling peach smoothies made with French vanilla frozen yogurt.

At Two Fat Cats bakery in Portland and South Portland, you’ll find peach pie and owner Stacy Begin’s favorite – a vanilla cupcake with fresh peach filling, topped with Italian buttercream and garnished with candied basil.

Jacqueline Dole, owner of Parlor Ice Cream, is making peach melba ice cream – peach with a raspberry ripple. In Portland it’s stocked at Rosemont Market, The Otherside Deli, Union Kitchen, Monte’s and the Bier Cellar.

Korik Vargas, also known as the Paleta Guy, makes fruit popsicles with a tropical twist and sells them from a cart on the streets of Portland. In August he’s adding a peach-flavored popsicle ($3.50) to his lineup, made with peach tea that is blended with local peaches and panela, an unrefined sugar that’s common in Colombia. Track down his cart’s location on the Paleta Guy Instagram or Facebook page.

Local restaurants are taking advantage of ripe peaches this season as well. Walkers Maine in Cape Neddick has a peach cobbler on its menu. On the fancier side, chef Andrew Chadwick at Inn by the Sea in Cape Elizabeth is making creme fraiche flan with peach gelee and compote, served with a pistachio tuille, while chef David Turin, owner of David’s in Monument Square in Portland, is dishing up cinnamon-ginger roasted peaches with lavender lemon curd and pistachio dacquoise.

A real peach of a beer

Peach Melba ice cream made by Parlor Ice Cream.  Photo courtesy of Jacqueline Dole

Craft brewers in Maine like to experiment with fruit, and many brew beers with local peaches. The catch? You may have to wait a few months to drink them.

Liquid Riot in Portland brews an American Pilsner called Blushing Star made with white-flesh Blushing Star peaches from Kelly Orchards in Acton. The beer won the gold at the 2016 World Beer Cup in the Brett Beer category, and earlier this year won a Good Food Award, national awards given to food producers who meet certain environmental and agricultural sustainability standards.

Allagash Brewing Co. in Portland plans to use peaches from Applecrest Farm in New Hampshire to make Windfall, a beer the brewery will bottle for the first time, said Allagash spokesman Brett Willis. (Why New Hampshire and not Maine peaches? The owner of Applecrest is an old college buddy of Allagash founder Rob Tod.) Allagash also makes a sour peach beer called Farm to Face. Both will be aged for about eight months.

Until then, head out to an orchard, pick a peach and bite into the juicy goodness. It tastes like summer.

 

Peach Mint Popsicles 

Colleen Hanlon-Smith of Locust Grove orchard in Albion says this popsicle is how peach farmers beat the heat. You can also pour the peach mixture into ice cube trays and use it as flavored ice cubes in still or sparkling water, or – for a more grown-up treat –with whiskey, gin or vodka.

4 ripe Maine-grown peaches

1 bunch mint, stems discarded

2 tablespoons Maine honey

Peel and pit the peaches. Slice. Place all the ingredients in a blender with 2 cups water and blend until smooth. Pour the mixture into popsicle molds and freeze overnight.

 

Jalapeno and Summer Peach Gazpacho

Recipe courtesy of Chef Josh Berry at Union restaurant in Portland.

Serves 4

3  jalapeno peppers

1 pound yellow peaches

1 pound yellow tomatoes, rough chopped

2 tablespoons white onion, chopped

1/4 cup crushed ice

2 tablespoons lime juice

4 tablespoons olive oil

1 teaspoon salt

1/2 teaspoon black pepper

1 tablespoon cilantro, chopped

Remove the stem from the jalapeno peppers, slice down the centers and remove the seeds. Heat a nonstick pan and “blister” the peppers until they are slightly charred. Set aside.

To peel peaches, score the fruits at the bottom with an “X.” Submerge the peaches in boiling water for 5-10 seconds until the corners of the “X” start to pull away from the fruit. Immediately place the peaches in ice water – the skin will peel right off. Remove the pits and rough chop the flesh. Set aside.

In a high-speed blender, puree the jalapenos, peach flesh, tomatoes and onion with the ice. With the blender running, add the lime juice, then the oil slowly. Blend until well combined. Season with salt and pepper. Pour the puree through a fine-mesh sieve or cheese cloth. Chill the gazpacho for 1-2 hours before serving.

To serve, pour the soup into pre-chilled bowls and garnish with cilantro.