A juicy summer treat with velvety golden skin, peaches got their name Prunus persica from the mistaken European belief that they came from Persia (Iran). Native to China, they were spread throughout Asia and Europe by traders and conquering armies. Peaches are a stone fruit related to almonds, apricots and cherries. Their fruit is used for jams, desserts like cobblers, added to spirits such as brandy and eaten out of hand.
Peaches are first mentioned in Chinese texts in the 10th century BCE. They were considered the food of immortality and long life and offered to gods and emperors. Natives of China, peach trees were a valued commodity and spread along the Silk Road to Persia to Greece and other Mediterranean countries. Peaches were carried to Italy, France and Spain by Alexander the Great around 300 BCE. Hernando de Soto may have planted peaches along Georgia's rivers on his explorations of the Americas in the early 1500s.
Domesticated and cultivated for millennia, peaches have been extensively cross bred. Georgia, a major producer, sells some 2.6 million bushels of 40 commercial varieties annually. Peaches come in clingstone and freestone varieties depending on whether the fruit sticks to the large corrugated seed or not. Both have a reddish blush to their velvety yellow skin and can have white or yellow flesh. White is sweeter and popular in Asia and Europe, while yellow peaches popular in North America are acidic with a tang to their sweetness.
One medium peach has 8 percent of the daily need for vitamin C along with 30 calories, 1 gram of fiber, 7 grams of carbohydrates plus protein and potassium. Fresh peaches can cause allergic reactions, including anaphylactic shock, in susceptible individuals, but canned peaches usually do not.
Peaches need a cool winter to produce fruit, but most lose their buds at temperatures below 5 degrees F and will drop their flowers at 25 degrees F. Eastern peach orchards established the fruit in the United States, with trees cultivated by Thomas Jefferson at his Monticello home. Today California and Georgia grow the majority of America's crop while countries along the temperate belt like Greece, India and China are the major peach producers outside the Unites States.
Peaches are the third most popular fruit in the Unites States behind apples and oranges, according to Chilton County, Georgia. Georgia got its nickname, the Peach State, following the Civil War during which it shipped fresh peaches to New York City.