Peaches are one of the climacteric fruits, which means they can ripen after being picked from the tree. Just like apples, bananas, mangoes, papayas, pears, avocados, and many more, they continue to get softer and sweeter as time goes on. What this means is that you do not have to pick a peach that is perfectly ripe at the store or farmers’ market. You may even want some that are not as ripe to allow them to ripen at home. If you find yourself impatiently waiting for a climacteric fruit to ripen, you can speed up the process by placing the fruit in a brown paper bag to concentrate the ethylene, or even position it near an apple or banana. So, if precise ripeness is not the key factor in picking the perfect peach, what is?
Step 1: Whenever possible, find local peaches. This rule applies to any fruit or vegetable, but it’s always worth reiterating. Local peaches, like those found at your local farmers’ market, are picked closer to ripeness because they don’t need to be shipped as far or moved around as much as those going through several hands before ending up at your local grocery store. While a peach will continue to ripen on the counter, it gains significant flavor from being ripened on the tree.
Step 2: Sample whenever possible. Again, your local farmers’ markets traditionally allow you to take full advantage of tasting and talking directly to the farmers. Some grocery stores also offer tastes of featured produce. There are over 300 different kinds of peaches grown in the United States, and over 2,000 varieties globally, with different flavors and textures. You are bound to discover a favorite or several favorites if you can sample. If you cannot sample, make sure to make notes of the variety of any peaches you purchase and particularly love.
Step 3: You can tell a lot by looking at a peach. Start by looking closely around the stem or where the stem was. If you see green, it’s a sign that the peach is far from being ripe and probably picked too early. Peaches should have vibrant tones and colors. Keep in mind, though, that sometimes a leaf was shielding part of the peach so there might be some parts of it that received less sunlight (making that part lighter in color). Just make sure that those parts don’t have any green tones, which is a sign that the peach was picked too early.
Step 4: Gently squeeze. Don’t poke! As peaches ripen, they get juicer and sweeter. Giving them a gentle squeeze will tell you what stage they are in. Hold a peach in your hand like a ball and gently squeeze, if it feels like a baseball it will be crunchy and not quite ripe yet. If it has a little give like a tennis ball, it’s ripe and ready to be enjoyed. Never use your thumb or finger to poke at a peach, it will cause bruising under the skin which will ruin that part of the peach.
Step 5: Treat them with care. Once you get your peaches home, be sure to store them at room temperature with the stem side down. Don’t stack them, and don’t leave them in the bag unless you want them to ripen quickly. Pro tip: Line your peaches up in order of ripeness whenever possible. This way, you can pick the ripest peach every time. If you need to slow down the ripening process, place the peach in the refrigerator, which will extend its freshness by a few days.
Step 6: Enjoy! Peaches have many different uses, from a snack on their own, to grilled, to sauces, to a favored ingredient in desserts and cocktails.