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Reach for a peach Niagara County grows some of world's best, and now's the time to savor the juicy gems

When Tim Bartlett meets a shopper who's not sure what the fuss is about Niagara County peaches, he doesn't argue.
"If there's one available, I just cut it up and have them try it," said Bartlett, the Lexington Food Coop's general manager. "Local fruit, in season, is a completely different fruit than you get in winter."

With about two weeks left in Western New York's peach season, eaters clued in to the seasonal calendar are grabbing all the peaches they can handle. This past weekend, the record-setting crowd at the 52nd Niagara County Peach Festival devoured nearly seven tons of peaches, in almost 10,000 servings of peach shortcake, said Joan Wolfgang.

"That's more peach shortcake than they've ever had," said Wolfgang, a festival coordinator.
To honor the dwindling days of the local peach, here's a few recipes to get the most out of the prized stone fruit. Here's a poundcake recipe that will create a moist, rich foundation for simple but delicious macerated peaches.
For the more ambitious cook, we present a peach pie with its roots south of the Mason-Dixon Line.

Dawn Siemucha of Lewiston took first place in the Peach Festival's Peach Taste-Off. Fresh from its triumph in Lewiston, here's her winning recipe for Southern Peach Pecan Cream Pie. (The recipe calls for enough pie crust for a 9-inch pie plate; dough from a supermarket frozen dessert section is fine.)
Years ago, the festival didn't always use local peaches, but the fruit for this edition of the festival was supplied by Singer Farms of Appleton.
"Western New Yorkers are totally spoiled by the stone fruit season we have here," said Bartlett. "The fruit that we grow in Niagara County is phenomenal. They're nothing like the rocks you get shipped in from Washington."
When Bartlett says that imported winter peaches are a different fruit, it's more than just marketing. During the rest of the year, peaches available locally are shipped from Georgia, California or South American countries like Chile, he said.
Those varieties of peaches are selected for how sturdy they are while traveling, not for their flavor, said Bartlett. They're picked green and ripen during the week or two they spend traveling by truck or ship to Western New York.

"If it has to spend a week or two on the truck or the boat, then have a week in our refrigerator, it's going to lose a lot of flavor."
Most of the Co-op's peaches this year have come from Dan Tower, a Youngstown farmer. "For the last month, it's been one of our best-selling products," Bartlett said. "We have them right up front in the store, and people get really excited when they see them."
You can't get peaches like this elsewhere because they can't take the journey, Bartlett said. But the tender, juicy peaches make the trip from Youngstown just fine. "Now's your chance," he said. "Enjoy them while you can."

>Southern Peach Pecan Cream Pie

Filling:
4 cups unsweetened sliced peaches (about 6 medium)
1 cup sugar, divided
1/4 cup all purpose flour
3 egg yolks
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
1/2 teaspoon salt
1 cup (8 ounces) sour cream
2 tablespoons peach preserves

Topping:
1/3 cup sugar
1/2 cup all purpose flour
1/2 teaspoon ground cinnamon
1/4 cup cold butter
2 tablespoons chopped pecans
Pastry for 9 inch pie

For filling, place peaches in a large bowl; sprinkle with 1/4 cup sugar, peach preserves and toss gently to coat.
In another bowl, combine flour, egg yolks, vanilla, salt and remaining sugar; fold in sour cream. Stir into peaches.

Smooth crust into 9-inch pie plate.
Pour filling into crust. Bake at 400 degrees for 15 minutes. Reduce heat to 350 degrees and bake for 20 minutes.

Meanwhile, combine dry topping ingredients in a small bowl. Cut in butter until crumbly. Sprinkle over top of pie.

Increase heat to 450 degrees. Bake 15 minutes longer, or until topping is browned.

Cool on a wire rack.
Store in the refrigerator.
Source: Dawn Siemucha, winner of 2009 Lewiston Peach Festival Taste-Off.

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>Peach Topping

4 cups sliced ripe peaches
1/2 cup sugar, or to taste
1 tablespoon fresh lemon juice

In a bowl, gently mix peach slices with sugar and lemon juice. Allow to stand for an hour, stirring occasionally. Spoon over slices of poundcake, or shortcake, and adorn with whipped cream, if desired.

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>Pound Cake

12 ounces (3 sticks) butter, plus more for pan
3 cups plus 2 tablespoons flour
1 teaspoon baking powder
1/2 teaspoon fine salt
1 cup milk, at room temperature
1 teaspoon pure almond extract
1 teaspoon pure lemon extract
1 teaspoon pure vanilla extract
3 cups sugar
6 large eggs, at room temperature

Heat oven to 350 degrees. Generously butter a light-colored 10-inch tube pan. Add 2 tablespoons flour; turn the pan to coat it evenly with flour, tap out any excess and set aside. (Pan interior should be smoothly and evenly coated with butter and flour, with no clumps or gaps.)
Using a sieve set over a bowl, sift together remaining flour, baking powder, and salt. Repeat 2 more times.

In a measuring vessel with a pourable spout, combine milk and almond, lemon and vanilla extracts.

In the bowl of a standing mixer fitted with a paddle, cream butter at medium-low speed until light and fluffy, about 2 minutes. Gradually add sugar, 1/4 cup at a time, scraping down the sides of the bowl with a rubber spatula, and beat until satiny smooth, about 3 minutes.
Add 1 egg at a time to the butter mixture, beating for 15 seconds before adding another, and scraping down the bowl after each addition. Reduce the mixer speed to low and alternately add the flour and milk mixture in 3 batches, beginning and ending with the flour.

Scrape down sides of the bowl; beat just until the batter is smooth and silky, but no more.
Scrape batter into prepared pan and firmly tap on the counter to allow batter to settle evenly. Bake until light golden and a toothpick inserted in center of cake comes out moist but clean, about 1 hour and 15 minutes.

Let cake cool in a pan on a rack for 30 minutes. Invert cake onto rack. Let cool completely before slicing. Cover with fresh peach topping, or enjoy as is.

Source: Lexington Food Co-op.

e-mail: agalarneau@buffnews.com

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