Saturday, May 20, 2017

Pêche – A Peach: the Fruit. Peaches in France. Peaches on French Menus.

Behind the French Menu
Bryan G. Newman

The story of the peach.

An extensive variety of peaches are grown in France; their flesh may be anything from practically white like the Pêche Blanche to others with a flesh of the deepest yellow along with others that are almost orange or red or come with red streaks. 

Like many other fruits, the peach originated in China and traveled to Persia and ancient Egypt. It is unclear who brought the peach to France, but the honor is generally given to the Mediterranean’s wholesalers, the Phoenicians, or possibly the Greeks when they began to create settlements in the South of France. (The Greeks arrived 500 years before the Romans and built on the Phoenician trading post the City of Marseille). It was the French or British who brought the peach to North America.

Fresh peaches.

In village markets, you may also come across old, rarely seen, heirloom varieties of peaches and vine peaches.  These heirloom peaches may be on a restaurant's menu or in a farmer’s market.  Each variety of peach has its own taste and texture and its own short season so that even with France’s beautiful, warm, Mediterranean fruit factory, you will only see fresh, French, mainland peaches between the June and September. At other times of the year, peaches may be flown in from France’s overseas departments. The many varieties of peaches are all perfumed with a broad range of bouquets, and they vary from the size of a medium-sized apricot to the flat peach, the pêche plate; peaches that look like miniature car tires and on to other varieties.

Peaches in the market.

Hotels may offer fresh peaches with yogurt for breakfast, or a café may offer you a baguette and butter with a homemade confiture de pêches, a peach jam. A restaurant’s digestif, an after dinner drink, may well be a crème de pêche, an alcoholic peach eau-de-vie.

Peaches on French menus:

 Pêche Blanche – White peaches. From the outside, some white peaches may not look very different to regular peaches; however, the texture and different taste make a huge difference. 

White peaches
Pêche Melba  -   Peach Melba; a real peach Melba is made with fresh peaches served on a bed of vanilla ice cream accompanied by a fresh raspberry sauce and possibly kirsch.  This recipe was created in honor of Nelly Melba, an Australian Opera singer at the Savoy hotel in London in 1892. While the site of this dish’s creation was not in France, the chef was French.  The chef was Auguste Escoffier; Escoffier created many other recipes in Nelly Melba’s honor, and Pêche Melba will, in season, be on many French menus.

The beginnings of Peach Melba.
Photograph courtesy of Heather Sperling

Pèche Plat -  A flat peach.

Flat peaches

Rôti de Magrets aux Pêche de Vigne - Roast duck breast prepared with vine peaches.

Sorbet à la Pêche - A peach sorbet.

Pêche du Jour – Catch of the day.  The word for Pêche is also used for fish, and a pecheur is a fisherman.  Read the menu carefully.

Pêches du Roche - Fish from the rocks; this covers many types of small fish, a great many of which are used in fish soups.  Be careful with the word Pêche.

Visit the King’s Kitchen Gardens, the Potager du Roi.

The King’s Kitchen Gardens are just around the corner from the Château de Versailles and an essential part of any visit to the Château. You will be told by the guides, correctly, that in the 16th and 17th century France was considered the world center for peaches. The peach was one of King Louis XIV 's favorite fruits. (King Louis XIV September 1638 – September 1715).

A view of the Chateau of Versailles from the Potager du Roi.
Over time and my various visits to the gardens I have asked and received answers including the fact that the King had over thirty different varieties or peaches cultivated in his the Potager du Roi, at Versailles.  That was thanks to his gardener, Jean-Baptiste de La Quintinie (1626 - 1688). The garden Quintinie began was continued after his death by his sons. Today the gardens are both an agricultural training school and a place where visitors may see how the gardens looked 400 years ago. (N.B. Quitinie had previously designed and prepared the gardens for the Chateaux de Vaux-le-Vicomte, but that is another story).
When visiting the Chateau de Versailles find a spare hour to visit the Potager du Roi. It is a ten-minute walk from the Château, and will also be a fascinating visit.  Even more to the point, here is a solution if you are thinking how you are going to spend your time while you wait an hour or more for your tour of the Chateau! The guides are in the gardens are knowledgeable, and you may see and hear about heirloom fruits that you will be unlikely to hear or see anywhere else. Entrance is 4.50 Euros during the week and 7.00 Euros on the weekend. 

The gardens have their own French language website that can be easily understood using the Bing or Google translate apps:

Buying peaches.

Chefs are very careful when choosing peaches; peaches may improve their color after they are picked but they do not get any tastier. When buying your own peaches, unlike some other fruits, the touch of your hand tells you nothing about the taste.

The greatest cocktail made with peaches is Italian.
Nevertheless, there are excellent French copies.

The Bellini- This Italian cocktail is made with fresh white peaches and that excellent Italian sparkling white wine Prosecco de Valdbienne. It is named after the Italian Renaissance painter Giovanni Bellini.  The Bellini cocktail was created in Harry’s Bar, Venice, Italy by its owner Giuseppe Cipriani.  Harry’s bar and Giuseppe Cipriani, are even more famous for the creation of the dish called Carpaccio. Like the Bellini, the Carpaccio is also named after a Renaissance Venetian painter, in this case, Vittore Carpaccio.  In France, excellent Bellinis are made with Champagne or a Crémant instead of the Italian Prosecco.
Sky High Bellini
Languedoc-Roussillon, now part of the super region of Occitanie, produces nearly 50% of France’s peaches followed by the Rhône-Alpes now part of the super region of Auvergne-Rhône-Alpes with Provence-Alpes-Côte d'Azur in third place.  In the world of peaches China takes first place, producing more peaches than the rest of the world combined.

Nectarines and peaches

Brignon, Brugnon, and Brognon are the French names for nectarines. This is not a post on nectarines, but they are an offshoot of peaches. Certain peaches carry a recessive gene which can create nectarines on a branch of a peach tree or a whole tree of nectarines where peaches were expected.  This recessive gene affects the color of the nectarines as well as their sweetness and texture/.

Peaches in the languages of France's neighbors:

(Catalan -  presseguer or bresquiller), (Dutch - perzik), (German - pfirsich ), (Italian - pesco),  (Spanish - melocotón),

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Behind the French Menu’s links include hundreds of words, names, and phrases that are seen on French menus. There are nearly 400 articles that include over 1,000 French dishes with English translations and explanations. To search for more articles like this one simply add the word or words you are searching for to the words "Behind the French Menu" and search with Google or Bing.
Bryan G. Newman
Behind the French Menu.
Copyright 2010, 2017.

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