Peach Melba from the garden

August 3, 2022

Growing your own peaches means you not only have fresh healthy fruit but fresh somewhat-less healthy desserts.

One of the most popular peach desserts is Peach Melba, for which we have embezzlement, larceny and fraud to thank.

At a dinner party in 1892 honoring operatic soprano Nellie Melba at the Savoy, chef Escoffier served Nellie Melba a dessert of sliced, fresh peaches served over vanilla ice cream.

It was presented in a silver dish that sat on top of an ice sculpture of a swan, which is featured in the opera.

Several years later chef Escoffier and César Ritz were fired from the Savoy for embezzlement, larceny and fraud. The pair opened the Ritz Carlton in London and chef Escoffier served a dessert of poached peaches atop vanilla ice cream with a sweet raspberry sauce, renaming the dessert Pêche Melba, or Peach Melba.

You can grow any peach (prunus persica) to make your own Peach Melba, although there is even a white-fleshed peach named specifically for this dessert, the Melba peach. These are yellow-skinned, very large fruits. White fleshed peaches are mentioned as early as the 1600s. Other white-fleshed peaches include the unusually flavored, and bizarrely-named, 1825 heirloom, the Stump of the Earth. This old favorite has light green skin with a blush of red. The Stump of the Earth ripens early in the peach season.

Stark Saturn is a donut or flying saucer peach, that is dish-shaped, flat with a sunken center. Stark Saturn has a sweet flavor with hints of almond. The almond flavor is understandable because peaches and almonds are related. Stark Saturn is not just a delicious novelty but a very productive tree.

White-fleshed peaches usually taste sweeter and are lower in acidity than yellow flesh peaches.

Several varieties of white-flesh peaches are lower in acid, with a higher pH than yellow-fleshed peaches. White-fleshed peaches are a low-acid food for canning purposes, and there is no low-acid pressure process available, so the best way to preserve white-fleshed peaches is by freezing.

Plant peach trees 20 to 25 feet apart in well-drained slightly-acidic soil, with a pH between 6 and 6.5. Choose a spot that gets full sun, especially morning sun, because it helps dry morning dew off the peaches. Avoid planting peaches in low areas, where cold air and frost can settle. This will affect the quality of your peaches.

Your trees will begin bearing crops 3 or 4 years after planting. You will get the biggest crops after 8 to 12 years. About 4 to 6 weeks after your tree sets fruit, thin the unripe peaches so that they are 6 to 8 inches apart. If you leave too many peaches on the tree, they will be smaller and not as fleshy. Thinning the fruit lets the tree use all of its energy on the remaining fruit.

Peach trees do need heavier pruning than other fruit trees. If left unpruned, your peach trees will become weaker, they may become diseased, and over the years will bear less fruit every year. Peaches bloom and bear fruit on second-year wood. For best crops, your trees need to grow each spring and summer to ensure next year's crop. White fleshed peach trees are self-fertile, so you can plant a single tree and get good crops.

Plant a white-fleshed peach tree and soon you can enjoy poached peaches over vanilla ice cream topped with a raspberry sauce. Thanks to a French chef who got fired for embezzlement, larceny, and fraud. Now that is one decadent dessert.

  • Paul Barbano writes about gardening from his home in Rehoboth Beach. Contact him by writing to P. O. Box 213, Lewes, DE 19958.

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