But whenever breeders pursue certain traits, others fall by the wayside (as evidenced by very long-stemmed but scentless roses). In this case, the abandoned traits just happened to be the ones that matter most in a fruit: flavor and texture. As brilliant as the scientists were at cross-pollination, they did not understand what happens to your hopeful heart when you spy a bin of rosy-gold peaches at the market, select a bagful, bring them home, and bite into one that is cottony, mealy, or sour. You feel burned. No wonder per capita consumption of peaches has decreased over the past 20 years.
That may be about to change, according to Carlos Crisosto, professor of postharvest physiology at UC Davis. "Quality used to mean fruit that arrived at a store in good condition: firm, attractive, no decay," he says. "It was what the distributors wanted. Now it will mean what the consumer wants—fruit that tastes great when you get it home." To provide that, he's developed new ways to pack, store, and ship riper fruit, while his colleagues have been cross-breeding to reintroduce flavor. "We're using this multidisciplinary approach to save the peach, plum, and nectarine for the consumer," says Crisosto.
One person who can appreciate these efforts is Hugh Acheson, chef and co-owner of three Georgia restaurants, including Five and Ten in Athens and Empire State South in Atlanta. Summertime in his kitchens has always been a sweet, happy glide from peach-buttermilk ice cream to plum tarts, from nectarine sorbet to apricot soup. After all, stone fruits' imperfections can be easily masked by the cook who adds a little extra sugar to compensate for sourness or bakes a hard fruit until it's meltingly soft.
But for Acheson, no dessert has ever tasted quite as delicious as a fat, ripe peach eaten out of hand. "Summer for me is all about the search for the perfect peach," he says. "You find it, you eat it, it's gone."
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