BEFORE THAT FIRST BITE

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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.

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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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