Prunus Persica

As fruits go, the peach has one of the more interesting histories. Its genus, prunus is classified within the rose family, and includes other stone fruit (or drupe)-producing trees like the cherry, plum and apricot.

Peach trees have Persica in their name primarily because early Westerners, starting with the Greeks, believed them to be Persian in origin. In fact they originated in China where they were cultivated at least as far back as 10,000 BC. Peaches grow easily from seeds, and that made them easily portable for the traders that moved them along the Silk Road from China westward into Kashmir and ultimately into what is now modern day Iran (where they thrived). That was in about about 2,000 BC.

Though there’s no actual written evidence of it, most food historians believe that the peach was brought to Greece by Alexander the Great not long after he vanquished the Greeks’ arch enemies, the Persians, in about 330 BC. Shortly afterward the peach started popping up in Greek writings, notably in those of the philosopher/scientist Theophrastus in 288 BC.

From the classical Greeks is was just a short cultural hop over to the Romans, who spread the fruit all around their empire, all the way up to Britain. Indeed peach pits have been founded in excavated Roman refuse piles dating to 200 AD. Interestingly, peaches never really took hold there, and had to be reintroduced from France in the 1500’s.

Ultimately it was the Spanish who brought peaches to the Americas, where they ultimately thrived in the so-called “Chesapeake Peach Belt” from Maryland to Delaware and up into New Jersey. But of course it was Georgia that really became synonymous with the peach trees. I lived there briefly about 10 years ago, and there have to be 20 different streets in Atlanta called “Peach Tree” this or that. No wonder I could never find anything. Today it’s South Carolina and California that are responsible for the bulk of the annual American crop.

16 thoughts on “Prunus Persica”

  1. Peaches are the cat’s ass, in my opinion. There are few things better than Ontario peaches with a generous pour of whipping cream and a bit of vanilla extract (real!). I have been known to eat 7 peaches at a time that way. Don’t tell.

  2. Dear Joe:

    With the end of peach season fast approaching, we’ve eaten as many peaches as we could just fresh, ripe and sweet. But I also made a peach tart with creme fraiche added with the peaches, topped with a brown sugar/butter/flour crumb. The end of peach season suggests a new project for autumn: fruitcake. Real fruitcake. Good fruitcake. Dark, heavy, complex, medieval fruitcake soaked for at least a month in cognac. Served in thin slices with tea. My brother (a former professional baker) and I are undertaking fruitcake this year — we’ve done it before — but this year we are caddying our own cherries, orange peel and pineapple. Then we’ll soak the fruit in cognac for a month, then bake, then age the cakes. We’ll see if home-candied fruit makes a difference. (It’s absolutely much less expensive, not difficult, and so far the fruit seems to have more flavor than the tired dry candied fruits that I’ve used in the past.

    Don’t know if you’re a fruitcake fan, but my Irish family loves it. No one is neutral, but most fruitcake haters have never had a good homemade fruitcake.

    Wish us luck!


    1. Oh I’m definitely a fruitcake fan. I have a very nice fruitcake recipe here on the blog, but as you already know, time is the secret ingredient. Long maceration and even longer aging is the secret to a great one. I want pictures!


      – Joe

      1. Yum… fruitcake. Another fruitcake lover here. I’m just finishing up last years. There is nothing like a “Dark, heavy, complex, medieval fruitcake soaked for at least a month in cognac” and then aged 10 or 12 months.

        Thanks for the reminder… it is time to start preparing ingredients!

        1. Ha! Nice! I guess aging works on either side of gift-giving day. Never really thought about that, Brian. Thanks!

          – Joe

  3. Ahhh,Peachtree St. Home to the longest(well,subway at least. I remember there used to be a Woolworth’s downtown that had an escalator,didn’t expect one in a Woolwortb’s. Rabbit trailing,never mind)escalator in the world and the(formerly)tallest hotel. Unfortunately Atlanta’s records are now the stupidest drivers and high concentration of annoying hipsters. There must be a special pheromone they emit that drove off the punks,skins,teddy boys and other counter-cultural(youth cults in UK parlance)types from the areas(like Little Five Points)they once congregated in. Or they just grew up….:)

    1. I once worked for a big consulting firm and had to commute from Chicago to Atlanta every week for about six months…fly down Sunday, fly back Friday. It was the worst. They put me up in a hotel right downtown and as you well know, there’s nothing at all downtown in the evenings. Little Five Points was the best I could usually do, assuming they gave me access to a car that week. There was a great soul food restaurant on the way there, just outside of downtown. It was in an old gas station as I recall. Any idea what that was? We’re going back 15 years or so now…

      – Joe

      1. Downtown Atlanta has gotten better in the evening, with student housing for Georgia State plus other new housing increasing the number of people there after dark. Restaurants are slowly following. These days it’s also easy to hop on MARTA and run out to Decatur, a dining hotspot.

        Can’t help with the soul food restaurant–the Busy Bee came to mind as a long-time, near downtown, soul food place, but I don’t think it’s in an old gas station.

        1. Nice to hear that, Nancy. Thanks for the update!

          I wonder what that place was? I need see if I can find it. Cheers,

          – Joe

  4. Actually, there are over 150 streets with “Peachtree” – one of the best t-shirts I saw was “Meet me on Peachtree” followed by all the names.

  5. Just a correction on the correct way to write genus and species names: the genus name is always capitalised, while the species name is not, and you have correctly italised it. The peach is therefore written Prunus persica, or the honey bee would be Apis mellifera. And… you can abbreviate the scientific name to P. persica after you have written it completely the first time. It’s one of those things that really doesn’t matter, but you are so conscientious and thorough I figured you would like to know.

    1. Always appreciate the input of professional, Jo! Thanks very much for the correction and the compliment — both are most welcome.


      – Joe

  6. I have just about given up on peaches here on the frozen tundra. Even at the height of the season what we get here are almost always rock hard cardboard clods painted to be peach color. You might think with the better transportation system in place it would be possible to get fresh peaches to market, but you would be wrong.

    After seeing the process for tomatoes while we lived in FLorida – bright green balls shipped by the dump truck full – I assume that is why so many fruits & vegetables are crap.

    1. Yes tomatoes are shipped green to prevent them from accumulating too many bruises along the way. That doesn’t do much for their flavor of course. Home grown tomatoes are the only ones I get excited about. But I guess that’s true about the peaches. I don’t remember eating many/any when I lived in The Cities. That’s probably why!

      – Joe

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