Vail seasonal: Savor Colorado peaches in simple preparations
Vail, CO Colorado
VAIL VALLEY, Colorado – Centuries before the peach found its way to United States and Colorado’s Vail Valley, it was grown in China and became a symbol of longevity. It was planted by the doors of homes to encourage good luck. A peach is still a traditional birthday gift, called a shou t’ao. The gum of the peach tree was thought to encourage long life and was favored by taoists as a possible ingredient in the elixir of immortality. The peach tree belongs to the rose family, and early peaches were small, tart, very fuzzy, and had more pit than fruit.
Georgia is called the Peach State because the fruit became an important crop after the Civil War. The state’s main crop was cotton, and peaches were planted for diversity within the agricultural economy. It is believed that Georgia was the first state to grow peaches commercially and today there are 29 states that boast this popular summer fruit in their harvests.
Palisade, Colorado is prime country for peaches. The microclimate has several features that are key to the successful crop. Cold winters give the trees sufficient dormancy to allow rejuvenation of the flower and leaf buds the following year. The long frost-free growing season coupled with high elevation’s intense sunlight creates intense fruit sugars. At night, cool mountain breezes move along the Colorado River slowing the ripening process and intensifying crisp fruit acids for a balanced flavor profile. The soil is rich, fertile and volcanic with complex clay and loam components. Snowfall runoff provides clean mountain water which is irrigated through the Colorado River.
Palisade peaches have been cultivated for over 100 years, and have been coveted around the world for their flavor. Bill Fitzgerald, Avondale’s Pastry Chef and a native Coloradoan is partial to the indigenous peaches. “The flavor is so pure,” he said, “It doesn’t need much besides cream to enhance it. I like to pair it with a crunchy streusel cake, simply for texture.”
Executive Chef Jeremy Kittelson agrees. “The sweetness of Colorado peaches pairs well with a salty ham. A slice of fresh, ripe peach wrapped with prosciutto makes a delicious and quick hors d’oeuvre.”
4 ripe peaches, quartered
1/2 pound Serrano ham or prosciutto, thinly sliced
2 Tablespoons aged balsamic vinegar
1/2 cup extra virgin olive oil
Radish sprouts for garnish
Wrap each peach quarter with a piece of Serrano. Whisk together oil and vinegar. Drizzle dressing over wrapped peaches. Top each with radish sprouts. Serves 6-8 as an appetizer.
4-5 ripe peaches, sliced
Vanilla ice cream
1/2 cup caramel sauce
1 cup firmly packed brown sugar
1/2 cup granulated sugar
2 1/4 cups flour
1/2 teaspoon ground nutmeg
About 2/3 cups (1/3 lb.) melted butter
1/2 cup chopped toasted pecans
1 teaspoon ground cinnamon
1 large egg, beaten
1 cup buttermilk
1 1/2 teaspoons baking powder
1 teaspoon baking soda
In a large bowl, mix brown sugar, granulated sugar, flour, nutmeg, and 2/3 cup butter. Transfer 1 packed cup of the sugar mixture to a small bowl. Add nuts and cinnamon, mixing well. To the mixture in the large bowl, add egg, buttermilk, baking powder, and baking soda; mix well. Pour batter into a buttered 9-inch cheesecake pan with removable rim. Sprinkle cinnamon-nut mixture evenly over batter. Bake in a 350° oven until toothpick inserted in center comes out clean and cake begins to pull from pan sides, about 55 minutes. Cool on a rack at least 20 minutes. Remove pan rim. Serve warm or cool.
Place a slice of cake on each plate. Add sliced peaches and ice cream. Drizzle with caramel sauce. Serves eight to 10.
Sue Barham is the marketing director for Larkspur Restaurant and Restaurant Avondale. Larkspur, at the base of Vail Mountain, has been serving American Classics with a fresh interpretation since 1999. Avondale opened in September 2008 in the Westin Riverfront Resort and Spa and features a West Coast inspired, market driven menu.