There is nothing better than the flavor of a perfectly ripe peach, bursting with juice. Unfortunately, peaches that have been handled improperly can be sour, mealy or mushy, and it’s not always easy to tell from looking at a peach whether it will be good or not. Proper storage of fruit is extremely important.
Peaches are best when picked just-ripe and firm, but most commercially grown peaches are picked while they are still quite green, to allow for easier mechanical sorting and handling. To decide how to properly store peaches, you must determine their state of ripeness.
If peaches are hard and greenish, they are underripe. Peaches that are firm but not green are nearly ripe (or “tree-ripe”), and peaches that yield to gentle pressure are ripe. Extremely soft peaches are likely overripe and should be refrigerated, consumed or cooked immediately to prevent spoilage.
Underripe peaches are extremely sour and sensitive to storage conditions. If you refrigerate an underripe peach, you will stop the chemical ripening process permanently. Underripe peaches should be allowed to ripen at room temperature until they are fully ripe and have reached the desired texture. Placing peaches in a paper bag will hasten this process, although it can cause the outside of the peach to soften before the inner part is fully ripe.
Once peaches have reached the “tree-ripe” stage (they may still be somewhat hard at this point but are no longer greenish), they may be refrigerated with little loss of texture or flavor. However, they will continue to ripen in the refrigerator, albeit more slowly than they would at room temperature. If you are using the refrigerator to preserve peaches that are at the perfect stage of ripeness, be sure to consume them within a couple of days, as the cold will not keep them from softening indefinitely.
Peaches that are picked too early may never achieve the texture of a tree-ripened peach, no matter how they are stored. Buying your peaches from a farmer’s market or orchard may help ensure that you get perfectly textured peaches.