My sister was born toward the end of July, when the Earth spews forth its abundance, making the stalls at the markets sag under the weight of fruits and vegetables in all primary colors, throwing at us dahlias and gladioli with their large, obscenely beautiful flowers, flaunting their velvety petals and sinful shades like over-confident debutantes who are aware that their time is yet to come.
When we were in high school, I used to resent her birthday, as it seemed that she had an unfair advantage; everyone in town was sporting a healthy sun-kissed tan, summer break was at its best, the streets were teeming with teenagers, the city pool was the place to be, and parents were stewing in summer heat long enough not to be bothered to keep everything in check.
As if that were not enough, the crates of peaches started appearing in our back yard, grown on the farm of our family friends. And I am not talking about your ordinary, supermarket quality fruit. These beauties were hand-picked at the peak of their ripeness, gently laid into the crates covered with crumpled newspaper like babies in cradles, their red, and orange, and yellow fuzzy faces looking up. We approached them with the predictability of Pavlov’s dogs, salivating at the mere thought of their fragrant, luscious flesh that yielded so easily to our teeth and tongues, oblivious of the aromatic, sweet juices running down our chins and staining our tee-shirts.
Summer for me is not at its height without peaches. They encapsulate the best nature has to offer, holding the essence of the sun in their perfect round shape. After smelling them individually for quality control, I bought several pounds at our local grocery store. I could not wait to sink my teeth into the soft fruit, anticipating a flood of memories. And I was not disappointed.
I have stopped resenting my sister and her birth season long ago. Every summer, wherever I am, I buy gladioli frequently, even when she is not with me in our childhood home. I eat peaches with abandon, smiling, awash with nostalgia, remembering those lazy, care-free summers of our youth when everything seemed possible.
- 4-5 large, ripe, but not too soft peaches, peeled and sliced into thin wedges
- 1 Tbsp water
- ½ cup granulated sugar
- 6 tbsp brandy, rum, or cognac (optional)
- 1 cup apple juice (add a bit extra if not using alcohol)
- 4 Tbsp freshly squeezed lemon juice
- 1 vanilla bean
- 1 cinnamon stick
- Fresh mint leaves
- Pour water and sugar in a heavy, stainless steel pot and heat on medium-low temperature until sugar caramelizes, swirling the pot frequently to prevent burning. (It will start changing color at the edges first and swirling will distribute the caramelization).
- It is done when it turns amber.
- Remove the pot from fire and add alcohol. (Be careful, as it may ignite).
- Add apple juice and lemon juice, and heat until it boils and all the crystallized sugar melts.
- Pour the peaches, vanilla bean, and cinnamon stick into the hot liquid and immediately turn the heat off.
- Let it cool off to desired temperature and serve with fresh mint leaves.