The German-inflected town of Fredericksburg in Texas Hill country is “Peach Central,” the biggest tourist draw in the largest peach-producing county in Texas. So it’s no surprise that Fredericksburg Culinary Arts, a cooking school located at Fischer & Wieser’s Das Peach Haus, would build a demonstration cooking class around this juicy, delectable fruit.
What is surprising is that peaches can take you from salad to dessert without being too sweet, too monotonous, or, well, too peachy. Carole Seminara and her husband, Joe Houde, innkeepers in Fredericksburg, also operate the cooking school, which is open to visitors year-round. Most lessons are $49 for two hours, include 4-5 recipes, and serve “ample samples” for consumption. For a September class of eight people, they prepared the peachy meal to show off the region’s local ingredients – not only peaches but jalpeños, goat cheese, pecans and various herbs.
While cooking, Seminara and Houde, both native Texans, effortlessly dropped Texas trivia, history and local gossip into the lesson, providing context for the meal. Peach farming came to the area in 1846 with the first German settlers, who recognized that the climate and soil were perfectly suited for peach production. Today there are 1,400 acres of peaches farmed, with 12 varieties commonly produced, from Bicentennial to Springold. Peaches attract tourists, and not just culinary types: people turn up for peach blossom viewing in late March, harvest from mid-May though early August, and orchard tours throughout the summer.
While whipping up a tasty meal, Seminara peppered the lesson with useful cooking tips (eg., when melting butter in the microwave, place a coffee filter upside down over the bowl so it doesn’t explode over the oven) and humbly reminded the class “There isn’t a kitchen mistake we haven’t made.”
The “Hill Country Salad with Peach Vinaigrette,” relatively easy to throw together, was made with ripe peach slices and a wonderfully tart peach vinegar made from peach puree. The cook’s secret? Adding a tiny bit of mayonnaise that emulsifies the dressing so the oil doesn’t separate from the other ingredients as quickly as usual. The curry was creamy without being sweet or rich, and the dessert was satisfying without being sugary.
Hill Country Salad with Peach Vinaigrette (Makes four servings)
4 ounce fresh goat cheese
1 firm, ripe peach, peeled, pitted and thinly sliced
1 large egg. Beaten
light oil for frying
1 package washed, baby spinach
2 tablespoon spiced pecans for garnish
Cut goat cheese into rounds, dredge in flour, dip in beaten egg and coat in bread crumbs.Heat oil in large skillet over medium heat. Fry breaded goat cheese until slightly browned and warmed through. Set on paper towels to drain. Toss baby spinach leaves with a small amount of peach vinaigrette. Place about a cup of dressed greens on salad plate, arrange three or four slices of peaches over greens, set rounds of goat cheese in center of salad. Garnish with a few spiced pecans. Drizzle with a bit more peach vinaigrette.
For the peach vinaigrette:
2 tablespoons peach vinegar (see below for recipe)
½ teaspoon lemon juice
¼ teaspoon mayonnaise
5-6 tablespoon light vegetable oil
Salt and freshly ground black pepper, to taste
Make peach vinegar by blending equal parts peach puree with unseasoned rice or white wine vinegar. Combine with mayonnaise and lemon juice in a small bowl. Stirring rapidly with whisk, slowly drizzle in the oil. Taste and add salt and pepper as needed.
Peach Chicken Curry (Makes 4 servings.)
½ cup sliced onion
1 medium sweet red pepper, julienned to ¼” strips
2 tablespoons vegetable oil
1 ½ pounds skinless, boneless chicken breast, cut into ½” strips
2 tablespoons curry powder
2 teaspoons fresh ginger, minced
1 large garlic clove, minced
1 small jalapeño pepper, diced small
½ teaspoon salt or more to taste
¼ teaspoon cayenne pepper
2 cups peeled and diced firm peaches
1 cups coconut milk (not cream of coconut)
1 tablespoon chopped fresh cilantro leaves
1 tablespoon fresh lime juice
Hot cooked rice
In large skillet over medium heat, sauté onion and red pepper in oil for 3-4 minutes, or until onion is translucent and pepper is tender. Add chicken breast strips, curry powder, ginger, garlic, jalapeños, cayenne and salt. Cook, stirring occasionally, for five minutes. Stir in the coconut milk, peaches and cilantro; bring to a boil. Reduce heat, cover and simmer for 5-8 minutes, or until chicken is cooked through. Stir in lime juice. Serve over cooked rice.
Peachy Cake (Makes 8 servings.)
1 cup unbleached, all-purpose flour
½ teaspoon baking soda
½ teaspoon baking powder
¼ teaspoon salt
¼ cup unsalted butter, softened
2/3 cup granulated sugar, plus 1 ½ tablespoon for topping
½ teaspoon vanilla extract
1 large egg
½ cup buttermilk, shaken
1 cup ripe peaches, peeled and thinly sliced (about 2 medium peaches)
Preheat oven to 400°F. Grease and flour 9-inch cake pan, preferably spring-form pan. Set aside. In medium bowl, whisk to combine flour, baking powder, baking soda, and salt. Set aside. In electric mixing bowl, beat butter and 2/3 cup granulated sugar at medium speed until pale and fluffy, about 3 minutes. Add egg and vanilla, beat until well combined, another minute or two. At low speed, add flour mixture in three batches, alternating with buttermilk and ending with flour. Mix until batter is combined but do NOT beat. Scrape batter into prepared pan and level. Arrange sliced peaches in even layer over batter. Sprinkle remaining 1 ½ tablespoon sugar over fruit. Bake in middle of oven until cake is golden and tester inserted in center of pan comes out clean, about 25 to 30 minutes. Cool cake in pan on wire rack for about 10 minutes. Remove cake from pan. Serve warm or at room temperature.
All recipes courtesy of Fredericksburg Culinary Arts.
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