Greg Peach crisp.jpg

Fresh peach crisp with a scoop of vanilla ice cream. The peaches are so sweet and tasty the only sugar in this dessert, a modest ½ cup, is in the crunchy oaty topping.

Northwest Montana is prime peach-growing country, and if you live in this area, this glorious fruit is at its prime. Tom and Lynn McCamant grow their peaches at Forbidden Fruit Orchards in the community of Paradise, a fitting name and place for the heavenly fruit their trees produce.

Growing peaches is a tricky endeavor, and last year a late February freeze killed off virtually their entire crop. But this year, the trees have rebounded beautifully, and Tom and Lynn’s peaches are abundant and succulent. I’m not one who cans or freezes or dries peaches. I just gorge on them during their brief six-week season. The only peach baking I’m likely to indulge in is an occasional pie, cobbler or crisp.

And speaking of crisps, here’s a recipe for a dandy one. It’s simple, easy, and the topping is as crunchy as you might wish. Leftovers (if you have any!) keep well in the fridge for three or four days.

I’ve seen many peach recipes that say not to peel the fruit. I don’t understand that. Why would you want a pesky tough peel interfering with the smooth, soft texture of the flesh? But I’m not one to judge. Peel the fruit or not. It’s up to you.

The skins of perfectly ripe peaches strip off easily with a paring knife. If your peaches haven’t reached that point, drop them into a large pot of boiling water and leave them for 15 to 20 seconds. No longer. Quickly transfer the fruit with a slotted spoon or skimmer into a big bowl of cold water. When cool enough to handle, slip off the skins, and prep the peaches according to the recipe.

Fresh peach crisp

Makes 8 to 10 servings

This is one of the best recipes I know for perfectly ripe peaches. The topping is super crunchy and buttery and stays that way even after storing leftovers in the fridge for a few days.

6 to 7 large peaches (2 ½ to 3 pounds), 6 cups, cut in wedges

1 cup (5 ounces) all-purpose flour

½ cup packed brown sugar, light or dark

1 teaspoon ground cinnamon

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¼ teaspoon grated nutmeg

¼ teaspoon salt

10 tablespoons cold unsalted butter, cut into 10 equal pieces

¾ cup old-fashioned rolled oats

Finely grated zest of 1 lemon

2 tablespoons fresh lemon juice

1. Wash and dry the peaches. You can peel them or not. Fully ripe peaches peel easily. Cut the peaches in half along the seam, twist to separate the halves, remove the pit and cut each half in half. Hook the tip of a paring knife under the skin at one end of the peach quarter and slowly peel it off the flesh. Cut each quarter into two wedges and add them to a 2-quart measure. Continue with remaining peaches to measure 6 cups.

2. Adjust an oven rack to the lower third position and preheat the oven to 400 degrees. Lightly butter a 2½-quart baking dish such as a 12 x 8-inch, a 9 x 9-inch, or a round 10 x 2-inch pan.

3. For the topping, place the flour, brown sugar, cinnamon, nutmeg, and salt in a food processor. Pulse a few times to combine. Add the butter and pulse until it’s in smallish pieces. Add the oats and process for 1 to 2 seconds, just to combine. If you don’t have a food processor, whisk the dry ingredients together well in a large bowl. Add the cold butter pieces and cut them in with a pastry blender until the texture is like coarse crumbs. Stir in the oats.

4. Put the peaches into the buttered baking dish, level them out, and sprinkle with the lemon zest and lemon juice. Pour the topping over the peaches and spread evenly with your hands to cover the fruit completely. Pat the crumbs gently in place without packing them down. The pan will be full.

5. Bake for 55 to 60 minutes, until the topping is lightly browned and you can see thickened juices bubbling in spots. Cool on a wire rack. Serve warm or at room temperature, plain or with a scoop of vanilla ice cream. Refrigerate leftovers.

Variations: Combine 1 cup huckleberries or raspberries with the peaches before putting on the topping.

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Greg Patent is a James Beard Award-winning cookbook author for “Baking in America,” a food journalist, blogger and radio co-host for “The Food Guys” on Montana Public Radio. Please visit his blog, www.thebakingwizard.com, and follow him on Twitter and Facebook.