Peaches are a great source of consternation for me. I am convinced that the last good peach I ate was consumed during my childhood, in 2001 or 2002, somewhere in the neighbourhood of Kisela Voda in Skopje, Macedonia. Most likely, it was one I had picked from a neighbour’s tree on my way from one grandmother’s house to the other — it was sun-kissed, warm, and fuzzy. I’d have wiped the fuzz off on my shirt, having learned the hard way that the down would prickle if I didn’t. (So taken with the softness of my very first Peach-Off-the-Branch, I nuzzled it against my face only to be met with the burn of trichomes stinging my cheek.) I doubt I gave a second thought to the fruit’s looming endangered status as I bit into lush velvet skin, enjoying the symphony on my taste buds as I ambled on, juice running down my chin and hands.
The perfect peach was hardly a rare commodity in those days. Even though my family lived in the city capital, our neighbourhood was more orchard than metropolitan, and in the summer, the dirt roads that passed for streets were often littered with stone fruits in various states of decay. It seemed to me the only people who actually bought peaches from the market were usually friends who lived in the tower blocks, or those tasked with bringing produce to the old pensioner Baba who was too crippled with arthritis to make the journey to Zelen Pazar herself.
I don’t know what happened to peaches. I don’t know if it was the arrival of the Western-Style Supermarket, catering to a newly capitalised (and capitalist) workforce in need of convenience. Maybe it was the succession of neighbours who took to chopping down their fruit trees, favouring grass plots in place of groves, flower bushes instead of food. My father spent years trying to make his own manicured emerald Gatsby Lawn happen, all at the cost of the sour cherries, apricots and wild roses that had survived decades in the front yard with little enterprise. Just like that, the beloved peaches of my childhood were nowhere to be found. Still, I kept hope alive.
Hope held until the summer of 2018, when I finally made it back to Skopje. I booked a room in the centre of town, mere footsteps from the market. In a jet lag fugue, I went and bought peaches — from a few different vendors, just to be safe — and brought them to my grandmother’s barrack. Slivers of each batch were laid out to try, but these peaches weren’t it. They were pale, watery, and lacklustre. “It rained too much this year,” my grandmother said with a shake of the head and a tsk, redirecting her attention to the Turkish soap opera on TV. Easier for her to move on — she’d had decades of good peaches.
From the orchards of Ontario, to the Obor market in Bucharest, to the organic aisle at Whole Foods, and back to Skopje once more. Nothing comes close to my memory in full saturation. The perfect peach, with its halo of fragrance, its lanugo coat, its just-blushed hue, is now an elusive and illusory sphere.
The longing for those bygone peaches is often accentuated not so much by their absence, but by the facsimiles that arrive every season to take their place. At this point, I have given up on finding the perfect peach. I can’t handle another anemic and mealy letdown. Instead, when the urge comes, I create my own holograms. I know it’s not the real thing, but it still feels closer somehow.
This week’s cocktail is an ode to my memory of peaches. Seasonal peaches provide the base of this conjuring, and mezcal evokes the salinity of my tears (lol). The dashes of heat are optional, but necessary if you want that trichome-inspired sting. To make this homage, you will need:
- 3-5 peach slices (I use doughnut peaches, but use whatever is ripe and around)
- 22 ml lemon juice (fresh)
- 22 ml honey syrup*
- 60 ml mezcal (of the less smoky variety) or blanco tequila
- Optional: A couple of dashes of habanero bitters, or just plain tabasco works fine.
*To make honey syrup, simply add 1 part hot water to 3 parts honey and stir thoroughly.
Place peach slices and a couple dashes of hot sauce in a shaker and muddle to a near puree. Add the lemon, honey syrup, and mezcal. Fill the shaker with ice, and give it a good quick shake; a count to eight should suffice. Strain into a chilled glass over ice, the fresher and dryer the better. A single large ice cube is ideal but work with what you have.
(Please feel free to treat this as a template for you to riff on. Play around with different modifiers, and different spirits. Gin, for instance, almost always plays nice.)