Never were two food items coined with the same name so vastly different. Resembling something whipped up in a food laboratory, donut peaches are genuine peaches, originally hailing from China in the 19th century. Descendants of flat peach varieties, donut peaches are aptly named ‘peento’ meaning, pardon the redundancy, ‘flat peach.’ They are also known as Saturn peaches as a nod to their resemblance to the rings of Saturn. Donut peaches exude a honey-like sweetness with far less wipe-your-chin juicy exuberance. Doughnuts, or Donuts (as coined by Dunkin) are what we dream of as we pile our paltry slice of 6 grain and legume Ezekiel bread with slices of avocado.
Recently, a gift of donut peaches followed me home, staring me down from the kitchen counter until I moved them across the room to my butcher block worktable. Unlike the blush pink donut peaches on display at the Farmers’ Market, these chubby little peaches were the color of clover honey. The peaches sat patiently for several days while I debated; were they best eaten straight up, no fuss, no fuzz, a hand-held celebration of summer? Or beneath the dimpled exterior was there a donut yearning to be free of its pit, slathered in custard, slicked with a glaze and a riot of confetti sprinkles? Based on my childhood, the answer seemed obvious.
Doughnuts were an integral part of my youth, particularly on lazy Sunday mornings, set against a dining room table blanketed in sections of The New York Times. My father’s hankering for something other than French toast or waffles or Jessie’s homemade sugar buns would send him to the Cedarhurst Cake Shoppe or the Gaston Avenue bakery. Returning with a cake box secured with baker’s twine, my father ceremoniously untied the box, placing the baked goods on a large Stangl platter. Everything boasted gluten and sugar and plenty of butter; the only thing preventing cross-contamination between sweet and savory were a few crinkly sheets of wax paper. Crusty rolls dotted with flecks of poppy seeds, onion and caraway elbowed thirst-inducing salt sticks. Airy crullers glazed in both chocolate and vanilla nuzzled against humble cake doughnuts, sparkly with cinnamon sugar. Plump jelly doughnuts oozing raspberry covered everything in snowdrifts of powdered sugar. Anything filled with vanilla custard and dripping in chocolate was divvied up into quarters, leaving a trail of chocolate smudges and dots of cream on the tablecloth. The room was fragrant with Sunday morning; a tangle of newsprint and Eight O’Clock Coffee, caraway and onion, chocolate, and raspberry. A thin veil of powdered sugar hovered over the table. The empty bakery box sat off to the side, a solemn reminder that the weekend was drawing to a close and I hadn’t yet started my homework. My father poured himself a second cup of coffee from the Chemex and reached for the crossword puzzle.
The quart of donut peaches staring me down from its perch on my butcher block this week begged to be used. I had to oblige, but not before dunking them in a splash of Lillet and wrapping them in circles of pie pastry. They baked up resembling the genuine article, providing safe haven for a generous fill of custard and a wide stroke of powdered sugar glaze. Had my father sat down to a plate of donut peach doughnuts, he would have pointed out between sips of steaming coffee that the confetti sprinkles bordered on overkill. Then he would have set down the Book Review and reached for the Sunday crossword puzzle.