A Community of Peach Pickers

Masumoto Elberta peach. (Photo by Cheryl Angelina Koehler)

The Peachy Time of Year

Philip Gelb prepares one of his Masumoto Peach dinners. (Photo by Hannah Kaminsky)

Philip Gelb never really stops thinking about the Masumoto Family Farm peaches, even in the dead of winter. The only difference at the peachy time of year is that he has boxes full of these exquisite fruits stacked up in his West Oakland catering kitchen, where he devises recipes for peach sauces, salads, entrées, and desserts to serve at his Sound and Savor Masumoto Peach Dinners.

In March, Gelb and Millennium Restaurant Chef Eric Tucker were hoping for the chance to “adopt” a Masumoto tree so they could go harvest the peaches together at the farm in Del Rey, California, near Fresno.

“If we can’t, I can still get them at Berkeley Bowl,” Gelb said at an early spring Sound and Savor dinner.

A Masumoto Spring Lady, June Crest, Gold Dust, Flavor Crest, Sun Crest, or Elberta is not just any peach. The Sun Crest, in particular, has been an icon of the good food movement ever since farmer David “Mas” Masumoto’s essay and book titled Epitaph for a Peach were published in 1987 and 1996 (respectively), bringing attention to the value of older produce varieties no longer embraced by the mainstream market. Quite a few East Bay chefs and food enthusiasts came to the rescue, lining up to join the Masumoto tree adoption initiative launched in 2004 as a way to keep the heirloom trees viable
on the farm.

Slow Food East Bay members harvest Masumoto Elberta peaches in 2006. (Photo by Cheryl Angelina Koehler)

The photo above is from a 2006 harvesting expedition, when members of Slow Food East Bay went to the farm to harvest from their adopted trees. Among the pickers was Romney Steele, chef/owner of The Cook and Her Farmer at Swan’s Market in Old Oakland.

“After driving home, I [got back in the car and] drove all the way to Big Sur so that I could make jam with my auntie . . . and so we did, two cases worth, and maybe with rose geranium, if I recall,” says Steele, who now cooks with each seasons’ best local produce at her restaurant. “We usually make an heirloom tomato and peach salad come summer, if not a peach crumble tart.”

Among those continuing to make an annual peach-picking pilgrimage to Del Rey are Smoke BBQ Berkeley chef Tina Ferguson-Riffe and her partner/restaurant co-owner Jed Riffe. Their tradition began in 2006 when Jed was producing his documentary Ripe For Change, which explores the intersection of food and politics in California. The film opens at the Masumotos’ farm.

“I use half or more of the peaches for Smoke, making a wide variety of desserts, drinks, salads, and even a peach gazpacho,” says Chef Tina. “We also sell Masumoto’s cookbook, The Perfect Peach, where some of our recipes come from.”

Chefs Steele, Tucker, and Gelb have offered the following recipes so we can cook with these special peaches at home. Or we might make reservations and let these pros do the cooking.


Romney Steele’s Heirloom Tomatoes and Peaches with Burrata

This salad recipe, adapted from my second cookbook, Plum Gorgeous, is one I look forward to serving each summer at The Cook and Her Farmer, my restaurant in Oakland. I continue to adore the salad for everything it is—simple, elegant, and full of bright flavors, and for everything it’s not—fancy, fussy, and difficult to put together. It features burrata, a buttery soft, fresh cheese akin to mozzarella but filled with cream, which pairs beautifully with the peaches and tomatoes. It’s also one of the best ways I know to show off old-fashioned peaches like the Elbertas we picked at Masumoto Farm in 2006.

—Romney Steele, The Cook and Her Farmer, Oakland, thecookandherfarmer.com

Serves 4 to 6

1½ pounds assorted heirloom tomatoes, sliced into even-sized pieces
3 ripe peaches, pitted and sliced into wedges
8 ounces burrata cheese (about 1 ball), at room temperature
A handful of basil leaves (opal or piccolo verde fino),
whole or sliced into chiffonade
2 sprigs of tarragon, leaves only
2 teaspoons champagne vinegar or white balsamic vinegar
3 to 4 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil
Sea salt and freshly ground black pepper

Arrange tomato and peach slices on a platter or in a shallow bowl. Tear the burrata into chunks and scatter over top along with the basil and most of the tarragon leaves. Whisk together the vinegar and olive oil, then gently bruise the reserved tarragon leaves to release their oils and add them to the vinaigrette. Let marinate for a few minutes, then add a pinch of salt and drizzle the vinaigrette over the salad. Sprinkle with freshly ground black pepper and additional salt to taste.

Eric Tucker’s Grilled Peach and Quinoa Dolmas

Photo courtesy of Millennium Restaurant.

Sweet, tart, savory, tangy, and spicy, these peach dolmas with their tasty condiments hit all the bases. You could serve the filling as a salad without wrapping in the grape leaves, but consider offering large lettuce leaves that your guests can use as wraps, spooning on the condiments. Choose a firm but ripe high-acidity peach variety such as Summer Zee, O’ Henry, or June Lady.

—Eric Tucker, Millennium Restaurant, Oakland

For wrappers
12–16 large fresh fig or grape leaves (substitute brine-packed grape leaves, but omit the blanching process)
2 tablespoons cider vinegar
1 tablespoon salt
3 cups water

For grilled peaches
2 peaches, sliced in thick wedges
1 teaspoon agave nectar
½ teaspoon olive oil

For filling
2 cups cooked quinoa (or other whole grain of choice)
1 tablespoon olive oil
2 teaspoons brown mustard seed
3 tablespoons chopped parsley
3 tablespoons chopped spearmint
½ cup chopped toasted hazelnuts (reserve some for garnish)
Juice of ½ lemon
Salt and pepper to taste
Olive oil and lemon juice as needed

To serve
Charred Peach Serrano Chili Purée
Za’atar Oil

Bring water to a boil with the salt and vinegar. De-stem the leaves and blanch them in boiling water for 8 minutes. Remove and cool to room temperature. (Omit step if using brined grape leaves.)

Toss the peach wedges with the agave and ½ teaspoon of olive oil and grill until you have dark brown grill marks on each side. (You can use a grill pan or even a hot skillet.) The point is to caramelize the sugars on the peach exterior without cooking it through. Cool to room temperature and slice into small dice.

Warm the tablespoon of olive oil in a small skillet. Add mustard seeds and toast until they just start to sizzle and turn grey. Place toasted seeds in a large mixing bowl and add the quinoa, chopped mint and parsley, chopped hazelnuts (reserve some for garnish), and cubed peaches. Mix well, season with salt and pepper.

Preheat oven to 350°. Place 2–3 tablespoons of the filling on each of the blanched (or brined) leaves and roll up tightly, tucking in the ends of the leaves as you roll. Place dolmas in an oiled baking dish and drizzle with a little olive oil and lemon juice. Cover with foil and bake for 30 minutes.

Remove from oven and cool to room temperature. Refrigerate overnight if not serving immediately.

To serve: Garnish with Charred Peach Serrano Chili Purée, a drizzle of Za’atar Oil, and the reserved chopped hazelnuts.

Charred Peach Serrano Chili Purée

1 clove garlic, peeled
¼ cup large-diced yellow onion
1 serrano chili sliced in 4 (remove seeds if you want it less spicy)
1 tablespoon olive oil
2 diced soft ripe peaches
1 tablespoon agave nectar
1 tablespoon cider vinegar
Salt to taste

Heat oil in a sauté pan over medium high heat. Add garlic, onion, and chili, allowing the ingredients to slightly blacken before stirring. Add the peaches and cook for 5 minutes or until just softened. Purée with the agave and vinegar. Season with salt as needed.

Za’atar Oil

6 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil
2 tablespoons sesame seeds
1 tablespoon sumac powder
2 teaspoons dried thyme or dried za’atar oregano (or 2 tablespoons fresh za’atar oregano)

Heat oil in a small skillet over medium-low heat and fry the sesame seeds until they turn a light amber. Remove from heat, stir in the sumac and thyme, and then cool to room temperature before using.

Philip Gelb’s Polenta Peach Cake

Photo by Hannah Kaminsky (reprinted with permission)

Recipes from Philip Gelb’s Vegan Underground. Reprinted with permission. Learn more about the book and Gelb’s Sound and Savor Masumoto Peach Dinners at soundandsavor.com.

Yield: one 9-inch cake

2 ripe peaches

Dry mix:
1 cup coarsely ground cornmeal
1 cup flour
½ teaspoon cinnamon
1 teaspoon baking powder
½ teaspoon sea salt
½ teaspoon baking soda

Wet mix:
1 cup almond milk
½ cup maple syrup
½ cup olive oil
Oil, for brushing

Place a 9-inch cast-iron pan in the oven as you preheat oven to 350°.

Meanwhile, slice the peaches into eighths.

Whisk together the dry ingredients in a large bowl and the wet ingredients in a small bowl. Combine the wet ingredients with the dry ingredients, gently mixing until combined.

Remove the hot cast-iron pan from the oven, and brush the bottom and sides with oil. Pour the batter into the pan and cover batter with the peach slices.

Bake in the center of the oven for 25 minutes, or until a toothpick inserted into the center comes out clean.

Peach-Pecan Ice Cream

Just-pick peached at Masumoto Farm. (Photo by Cheryl Angelina Koehler)

Yield: about 1½ quarts

For the simple syrup
1 cup sugar or palm sugar
3 cups water
1 vanilla bean, split, seeds scraped out
(use seeds and pod)

For the ice cream mix
2 cups raw cashews
1 cup raw pecans
1 cup water
5 ripe unpeeled peaches, pitted and sliced
½ teaspoon cinnamon
2 teaspoons vanilla extract

Make a simple syrup by simmering the sugar, water, and vanilla seeds and pod in a saucepan, stirring until sugar is fully dissolved. Remove the pod and allow syrup to cool.

Add cooled syrup, cashews, pecans, and water to the bowl of a high-speed blender, and blend until very smooth and creamy. Add peaches, cinnamon, and vanilla extract, and blend again until smooth. Chill the mixture until cool. Place the mixture in an ice cream freezer and follow manufacturer’s directions to process.

Food photographer and recipe developer Hannah Kaminsky shares her latest creations on BitterSweetBlog.com. She is the author of My Sweet Vegan, Vegan Desserts, Vegan à la Mode, Easy as Vegan Pie, and Real Food, Really Fast.