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Plucky peaches persist through heat, drought

“Precarious” was the word that came to mind as I weighed writing a column about peach season.

Locally grown peaches had been delighting my family for a few weeks in our CSA share from Central Point’s Beebe Farms. But as the region’s temperatures soared and trees lacked irrigation water in many parts of the valley, fruit started dropping from the trees before it could be picked.

Cooler temperatures in the forecast for this week gave me hope, then Sugar Plum Acres in Talent confirmed the day before my column was due that Southern Oregon’s beloved 49ers were ready for picking. Hooray!

I still hedged my bets and, based on previous years’ trends, reported that Sweet Sue and Elberta peaches should be coming on. And almost as if I manifested the message, an email hit my inbox from Valley View Orchard in Ashland spreading exactly that news. Valley View’s store is open this Friday through Sunday for pickup of online orders. Shop valleyvieworchardorganics.com for 2-pound bags, 6-pound flats and 16-pound lugs.

Or pick, choose and purchase as many peaches as you like at Medford’s Harry & David Country Village. A store employee said they received a “huge amount of peaches” — six orchard boxes — Monday and has priced the fruit at 49 cents per pound.

I should have known that peaches, despite their soft, sweet persona, are no pushovers. “Plucky” is the word that now comes to mind.

If you miss out on fresh peaches, Valley View also has frozen fruit for sale that would be delicious in this cake, a recipe for both celebrating and extending the season. It calls for making ricotta from buttermilk the night before preparing the cake. It’s a method I’m eager to try that only requires lemon juice to create the curds.

The recipe from New York City baker and cookbook author Jason Schreiber calls for “pan goo,” a mixture of 1/4 cup neutral oil and 1/3 cup all-purpose flour, to prepare the cake pan. In place of seeds from vanilla bean, 1 tablespoon pure vanilla extract may be substituted. Recipe testers for the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette noted that after baking this cake for 40 minutes as directed, they moved the oven rack to the middle position for an additional 8 minutes, which produced a perfect set and golden brown crumb.

Tribune News Service photo

Buttermilk Ricotta and Peach Cake

1 1/4 cups all-purpose flour

1 1/2 teaspoons baking powder

1 teaspoon coarse salt

Buttermilk Ricotta (recipe follows)

3/4 cup plus 3 tablespoons granulated sugar, divided

2 large eggs

6 tablespoons unsalted butter, melted and cooled slightly

1 vanilla bean, split lengthwise and seeds scraped out

1 teaspoon finely grated lemon zest (from 1 lemon)

1 cup sliced firm-ripe peaches, 1/2 inch thick

Preheat oven to 350 F with a rack in upper-third position. Brush a 9-inch springform pan with Pan Goo.

In a small bowl, whisk together the flour, baking powder and salt.

In a large bowl, whisk the ricotta, 3/4 cup of the sugar, the eggs, butter, vanilla seeds and lemon zest until mixture is rich and creamy.

Stir dry ingredients into ricotta mixture until just combined. Then scrape batter into pan.

Scatter the sliced peaches on top of batter and sprinkle with remaining 3 tablespoons sugar.

Bake cake in preheated oven until edges are golden brown and a cake tester inserted into center comes out with moist crumbs, for about 45 minutes.

Transfer pan to a wire rack. Allow cake to cool for a few minutes before removing collar from pan. Serve warm or at room temperature.

Makes 10 to 12 servings.

BUTTERMILK RICOTTA: In a small saucepan, combine 2 cups whole milk, 1 cup heavy cream and 3/4 cup buttermilk over medium heat, stirring occasionally, until it reaches 200 F on a candy thermometer and curds begin to form, for about 15 minutes. Add 2 tablespoons freshly squeezed lemon juice and give it one last stir. Then remove pan from heat and let it sit undisturbed for 30 minutes.

Stir in 1 teaspoon coarse salt. Drain curds in refrigerator overnight through a triple layer of cheesecloth set in a colander over a bowl. Cheese should be firm enough to just hold its shape and measure a little over 1 cup when it's ready.

— “Fruit Cake: Recipes for the Curious Baker” by Jason Schreiber (William Morrow; November 2020).