Blame it on the cheap, tinny fruit cocktail that my elementary school cafeteria doled out, but until recently, I was a holdout on peaches. As a kid, I knew them as the bland, stringy, yellow cubes that floated in a bowl of cloyingly sweet syrup or that cascaded down a mound of flavorless cottage cheese.
Fresh, sliced peaches proved no better. Fuzzy on the outside, they had a tough, red strip at the center of every piece. Someone had done a lousy paring job, one that had scarred me for quite a while. It took a chance encounter with the flattened, white-fleshed, freestone Saturn to change my mind about this stone fruit.
Saturn peaches have more sugar, less fuzz
Taste, fragrance, texture and ease of eating were what won my heart. Smaller, sweeter and more aromatic than other varieties, the Saturn peach possesses everything that the fruit of my childhood did not: juicy, luscious flesh; an abundance of peachy flavor with just a hint of almond; and a bold, floral scent. Bite into this ambrosial gem and you experience the best that peaches have to offer.
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You can, in fact, sink your teeth right into an unpeeled Saturn. Its thin skin has little to no fuzz so you don’t have to remove the outer layer before consuming. If you hate peeling peaches and getting sticky juice all over your hands, arms, clothes and countertop, this is a huge selling point.
Additionally, you won’t need to wrench out or cut around a large pit. Its small, spherical pit doesn’t cling to the flesh and can be removed easily. Just cut the fruit in half, twist the halves to separate and pop out the pit.
Saturn peaches get their name from their bagel-like shape, which many believe resembles the rings of Saturn. Their squashed appearance has also earned them the monikers of doughnut, saucer and galaxy peaches. The pale yellow-fleshed version has been dubbed, fittingly enough, “Sweet Bagel.”
Although its form may be unusual, the origin of its shape is not. It arose out of a natural genetic mutation that produced a flattened, rather than globular, peach. Emerging in South China at least 200 years ago, it was known as pan tao, or “flat peach,” and was reputed to be the preferred fruit of emperors. Centuries later it’s winning fans in the United States.
Saturns thrive at Pennsylvania farm
An hour northwest of Philadelphia, in Boyertown, Pa., family-owned Frecon Farms has been harvesting Saturns for close to 20 years. During that time, these growers have watched customers tentatively sample the traditional, round peaches and then ultimately fall for the extremely sweet, flat variety. Steve Frecon points to the higher brix count of these peaches as a reason for their popularity; brix refers to the amount of sugar present in the fruit.
Although Frecon favors eating Saturns right out of his hand, he also advises using them as a replacement for Mandarin oranges in salads and dressing them with a bit of vinaigrette.
“Because of their low acidity and high sugar count, which burns off during cooking, these peaches aren’t as good for baking or preserving. They are best fresh,” he says. Yellow peaches, he adds, are better for cooking.
Should you opt to feature Saturns in a salad or pair them with other foods, keep in mind that they go nicely with almonds, apricots, honey, pistachios, pork, plums, walnuts, white and red wine, and champagne.
In spite of all its wonders, the Saturn does have its downsides. More fragile than other varieties, it bruises easily. When gathering Saturns at Frecon Farms, the peaches must be placed in shallow, half-bushel containers to prevent indentations in the fruit. Additionally, if they aren’t carefully plucked from the tree limbs, the peaches’ skin may tear at the stem.
Once picked, they should be quickly consumed. These guys don’t have a long shelf life and soon start to over-soften. However, with peaches this delicious, they won’t linger on your kitchen counter for long.
Saturn peaches are in season from July to late August, so gobble them up while you can.
If you can’t track down apricot liqueur, you can always omit it. This will leave you with a classic Bellini.
2 Saturn peaches, pits removed and cut into chunks
1½ ounces apricot liqueur, divided
Place the peach chunks and apricot liqueur in a blender and purée. Pour the mixture into two glasses and top with chilled champagne.
Top photo: Saturn peaches: Credit: Kathy Hunt