BEFORE THAT FIRST BITE

Choosing: At the market, pick peaches with a yellow or cream background color rather than a red blush. A green undertone shows that the peach was picked prematurely and will never fully develop its flavor.

Ripening: Leave peaches at room temperature to make them ready for eating. To hasten the process, put them in a paper bag with a ripe apple or banana, whose natural ethylene gas will encourage ripening. A soft touch and luscious scent tell you that it is ready.

Cutting: To halve a peach, cut around along the natural seam, then grasp the fruit with one hand on each half and twist in opposite directions.

Once peaches are cut, the air will darken their flesh, so toss them with a few drops of orange or lemon juice to protect them.

To remove skins quickly and easily, drop them in boiling water for ten to thirty seconds shortly before serving - the riper the fruit, the shorter the time. Remove them with a slotted spoon and drop them into cold water to stop the cooking.

Cooking: Underripe fruit can work well, even better, for baking, sauteing, broiling, or preserving. Mealy peaches will never be good for anything.

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