Sun Crest Peaches
There has always been something a bit too sensuous about a peach to keep its admirers on the straight and narrow. Sooner or later their relationship to a peach becomes physical and their admiring smiles tighten into a leer. Even the splendid and lyrical Epitaph for a Peach by David Masamoto gets slightly creepy as he describes eating a Sun Crest peach: “Sun Crest is one of the last remaining truly juicy peaches. When you wash that treasure under a stream of cooling water ...your mouth waters in anticipation. You lean over the sink to make sure you don't drip on yourself. Then you sink your teeth into the flesh, and the juice trickles down your cheeks and dangles on your chin.”
I can speculate at some length about why peaches, in particular, have this effect. I can point out its curvaceous outline; its lip-like groove; its terry-cloth fuzzy robe and its enchanting perfume as charms. But I think that the Siren-like appeal of a ripe peach is its flesh. Unlike other fruits peaches yield to the most tender of bites but a knife can make crisp-looking slices. And once in the mouth a ripe peach explodes into a sweet elixir while retaining just enough texture that it’s nobody’s snow cone. That peachy quality of yielding, juice-filled flesh is called “melting flesh” by botanists and while the science explaining this characteristic isn’t sensual it is sexy.
Peaches are a climacteric fruit, which means that the ripening process is triggered and driven by a plant hormone called ethylene. Peaches make this hormone in the fruits themselves at a point in their development. Ethylene is a gas and it permeates the peach tissues triggering a larger number of events that are collectively observed as the ripening process. For example, ethylene speeds the destruction of green-colored chlorophyll in peach skin allowing the yellow-colored carotenoid pigments to shine (if it’s a yellow peach). Ethylene also pushes along the production of sugars and the elimination of acids which both contribute to the sensory perception of “sweetness.” Ethylene plays a role, too, in softening the fruit’s flesh through an enzyme reaction that breaks down the cell wall structure in the fruit. As this enzyme reaction gains speed the peach’s flesh softens or “melts” suffusing the flesh with aromatic juices.
Recently plant geneticists have identified the peach gene responsible for the melting flesh characteristic and have given it the dubious abbreviation, “MF.” It turns out that some peach varieties have an absent or silent MF gene and thus remain firm despite being ripe. And there are probably variants of the MF gene to explain why some peaches “melt” more than others. To my knowledge the Sun Crest MF gene has not been sequenced but when scientists do I suggest that they lean over a sink.
These Sun Crest peaches were organically grown in my garden in the Valley of the Moon, Sonoma County.
Vegetables of Interest, 2008