Wexford Plantation Executive Chef Frank Copeland III dishes on his favorite fruit.
Story by Robyn Passante + Photography by Celia G Photographie
Here’s some advice for anyone who plans to talk to Wexford Plantation’s executive chef Frank Copeland III about peaches: Leave time in your schedule immediately afterward to head to the nearest farmers’ market or fruit stand and buy the freshest peaches you can find.
Because the craving will not leave you until you do.
Copeland, who’s rounding his 15th year at Wexford, isn’t just a passing peach fan. He grew up picking them on peach farms near his grandmother’s house south of Atlanta.
“The best way to eat a peach is right off of a tree, juices dripping down my chin,” said Copeland, whose family would take the fresh fruit and make peach ice cream as a unique summertime treat. “The ripe peach off the tree, that’s hands down the best.”
Now that he’s a South Carolinian, each year he and his family travel to Chappell Farms in Barnwell and come home with three carloads of peaches, all picked at the very peak of the sweet fruit’s harvesting season.
“The first test of a good peach is where it’s from,” says Copeland. “Getting a South Carolina peach in South Carolina means it hasn’t been on the road and refrigerated, which is a killer to most produce. Peaches never need to see a fridge, ever.”
They can, however, see a freezer, which is where the vast majority of the bounty he brings back from Barnwell ends up in the short-term, after being peeled, sliced and tossed with a little bit of simple syrup and lemon juice, then vacuum-sealed to retain freshness until they’re ready to be turned into chutneys, vinaigrettes and a host of other delectable delights.
In case you’re not yet reaching for your keys to go grab yourself a peck, read on for Copeland’s tips on all things peach.
Picking them. Besides asking where the peach was grown (the closer to home, the better), you’re looking for a peach that smells great. For the firmness, it should have some give, like a ripe avocado. – not mushy, but you can put your fingers softly into it. Nothing too hard against your fingertips, although peaches will continue to ripen off the tree, so if you have some extra-firm ones, just give them a few days. (South Carolina peaches are at their best in July and August.)
Peeling them. Use a good sharp paring knife, start at the opposite end from the stem end and peel in a circle. Practice makes for efficient peeling. Once you get the hang of it, it’s pretty quick.
Blanching them. I’ve never blanched a peach. It’s certainly doable, I just wouldn’t expose the peach to the heat because when you blanch something, you’re going to need to then shock it. Peaches are too easy to peel themselves, so this feels like a waste of time.
Slicing them. After the peach is peeled, slice it to an inch thickness if you’re going to can, freeze or eat them. Generally speaking, don’t refrigerate fresh peach slices. You could toss them in lemon juice to keep them as peach-colored as possible if you’re not eating them right away, but that’s changing your flavor profile. It’s much better to slice and serve.
Baking them. Peaches are going to give up a good bit of water when they’re cooked. It’s tough to bake with peaches because you never know how much water the peaches are going to give up, and that can mess with your pie crust. That’s why cobblers work a little bit better than a peach pie because cobblers can absorb that juice; with the pie, the crust can get soggy from the peach juice.
Grilling them. Use a firmer peach, one that needs 2-3 days before it’s super ripe. Peel it, drizzle a little olive oil, salt and pepper, and place the slices on a clean, hot grill for 2 to 3 minutes per side. They’re going to soften up a little bit, and you don’t want them to be mush. You just want to sear it and get that smokiness.
Complementing them. Peaches pair well with heat, so jalapeños are good. Smokiness does well, too. We’ll do a peach chutney with a smoked pork chop, or a pulled pork barbecue sandwich with grilled peaches. As far as seafood, seared scallops go exceedingly well with peach vinaigrette, and with peaches in general.
Frank Copeland III says he grew up a “foodie” and took his first cooking class at age 12, but planned to follow in his father’s footsteps and become a doctor. After earning his degree in biochemistry, though, he opted for culinary school rather than medical school, and the rest is history.
Copeland travels the country and the world in search of new flavors and interesting cooking practices, bringing his findings back to Wexford Plantation menus and to his own kitchen.
“I search out cool food and then I go check it out, learn about it and bring it back here,” said the husband and father of two, who spent two weeks in Singapore and Bangkok last month, mostly focused on sampling and learning about street food. He also has trips planned for Chicago, Wisconsin, New York, Atlanta, Minneapolis and Charleston later this year.
1 cup red bell pepper, diced
1 cup yellow bell pepper, diced
1 cup Vidalia onion, diced
2 tablespoons jalapeño, diced
2 tablespoons olive oil
1 tablespoon garlic, chopped
2 tablespoons shallots, diced
1/2 cup apple cider vinegar
1/2 cup sherry wine vinegar
1 cup packed brown sugar
1 1/2 tablespoons yellow mustard seed
3 cinnamon sticks
1/2 teaspoon ground clove
1/2 teaspoon ground cinnamon
1 teaspoon kosher salt
5 cups fresh peaches, peeled and diced
Sauté onions, garlic and shallots until soft in olive oil. Add all peppers. Sauté for five minutes over medium-high heat. Add spices and cook 3-5 minutes. Add sugar and vinegars. Cook over medium-high heat 15-30 minutes, reducing until thick and coating a spoon. Add peaches. Continue to cook for 30 minutes on medium heat, stirring constantly.
A great accompaniment for grilled pork chops or tenderloin. Add to mayonnaise and make peach chutney mayo for grilled chicken club sandwiches. Add to quesadillas with smoked pork and grilled onions and cilantro. Put it on top of burgers with goat cheese.
2 cups fresh peaches, peeled
1 cup peach puree
2 tablespoons dijon mustard
1/2 cup champagne vinegar
2 tablespoons shallots, chopped
1 tablespoon chopped garlic
1/2 cup very good quality Extra Virgin Olive Oil
1 1/2 cups vegetable oil
1/4 cup agave syrup, light color
Kosher salt and black pepper, to taste
Combine shallots, garlic, dijon mustard and champagne vinegar in blender. Blend together 20 seconds. Add agave, peach puree, peach slices. Blend 30 seconds to 1 minute until well combined. Slowly add oils while blender is running on medium speed. Should be creamy in consistency. Taste, adjust seasoning with salt and pepper. If you prefer a sweeter vinaigrette, add more agave syrup.
Serve with a peach salad, made with hydroponic bibb lettuce, Marcona almonds (tossed and coated with olive oil and Maldon sea salt, toasted for 10-14 minutes at 350 degrees and cooled), heirloom local cherry tomatoes, fresh South Carolina peach slices and burrata cheese. Seared scallops or shrimp accompany the salad very well.