“Just Peachy” by Belinda Smith-Sullivan, Gibbs-Smith, 168 pages, hardcover, $21.99
A new cookbook celebrating peaches arrived on my doorstep just as sweet, juicy Louisiana-grown peaches made their first appearance at the local farmers market. What perfect timing!
While peaches have traditionally been eaten out of hand or used to make desserts, author and chef Belinda Smith-Sullivan of Trenton, South Carolina, also offers recipes for savory dishes in her first book, “Just Peachy.”
The cookbook, attractively illustrated with full-color photographs by Mark Boughton, includes 70 recipes using peaches. They range from breads and breakfast dishes like Spinach-Peach Omelet to a section on beverages, such as Sparkling Peach-Blueberry Lemonade and Peach Margarita. In between are recipes for appetizers; soups, salads and sides; main courses; pies; desserts; and sauces and condiments. Among them are Crab Cakes with Peach-Jalapeño Salsa, Thyme-Peach Chicken Breasts, Spicy Oven Ribs with Peach Barbecue Sauce, Peach-Amaretto Ice Cream and Peach Salsa.
In the book’s introduction, Smith-Sullivan says her love affair with peaches began on her grandparents’ farm in Charleston, Mississippi, where she spent all of her summers. Her grandfather, like all the farmers around him, was a cotton sharecropper.
“Since no one had much of anything, bartering was a way of life,” she writes. “If you had an abundance of sweet potatoes and needed tomatoes, you bartered with someone who had an abundance of tomatoes and needed sweet potatoes. That’s how it worked, and no one wanted for anything. Neighbors took care of neighbors, and our neighbors delivered bushels of peaches to our doorstep throughout the heat of summer.”
She also learned to cook in her grandmother’s country kitchen, where there was only a wood-burning stove and no running water. And, after her grandparents passed away, her summers included road trips with her mother and aunts to southern Michigan to visit pick-your-own peach orchards and then returning to their Chicago home to can the fruit.
“Nothing, absolutely nothing, evokes the memory of my mother or my grandmother more clearly than a peach pie still warm from the oven,” Smith-Sullivan says. Today, the Johnson & Wales University-trained chef and food writer lives in the heart of South Carolina’s peach country.
She opens “Just Peachy” with a history of peaches — it begins in northwest China as far back as 6000 BCE. She offers interesting peach facts, such as the stone fruit is a good source of fiber, a medium-size peach contains only 38 calories, they're naturally fat-free, and there are more than 2,000 varietals of peaches worldwide.
Smith-Sullivan also includes information on the common peach varietals found in the 23 commercially peach-producing states, the best uses for them and how to store peaches. There’s a listing of peach festivals held yearly throughout the United States, and she provides a guide to canning and freezing the fruit.
The beautifully written “Just Peachy” cookbook makes the reader want to head into the kitchen to try all of its delicious recipes.
Cheramie Sonnier is a food writer and columnist. Contact her at email@example.com, and follow her on Twitter, @CheramieSonnier.