Who among us cannot recall the trickle of juice dripping down our chins upon biting into a ripe, juicy summer peach? Of all the fruits available to us the peach is the most sensual - from the heady aroma and velvety skin to the yellow, juicy flesh.

A member of the rose family, the peach is a stone fruit, called so for single stone or pit lying within.

Peaches may be either "freestone" or "cling," depending on whether the flesh separates easily from the pit; it's nearly impossible to pull the fruit from a pit if you happen to have hit on a cling instead of freestone.

Typically clingstones are used for canning, while freestones are eaten fresh.

INTERNATIONAL A-PEEL

In addition to the more common yellow-fleshed peach, there are white peaches, which tend to have lower acid and are used more typically in salads and in the famous Venetian aperitif, the Bellini (see recipe).

Although it was thought that nectarines (with their peachy appearance and smooth skin) were a hybrid between peaches and plums, they are known now to be of the same species as the peach.

Thought to have been native to Persia peaches (whose Latin name is Prunus persica), they are believed now to be the first domestic fruit crop in China that made its way along the great silk roads to Persia. As with many fruits and vegetables, 16th-century European explorers bought the peach to the new world.

While Persia (Iran) still produces a small percent of the world's peaches, China is first in production, with Italy and the United States next. Georgia is the leading producer in the United States, and because of the high quality and excellent flavor of its peaches, the state is known as the Peach State.

ENJOYMENT IN ABUNDANCE

Positive associations with peaches are abundant in our vocabulary (peachy keen, skin like peaches and cream, you're a peach) so this is the time to take advantage of their abundance.

Many recipes call for gently blanching them for a minute in boiling water to quickly remove the skins, but ripe preaches can be peeled without blanching.

Because they are high in Vitamin C and low in calories you can throw one in the blender with some vanilla yogurt for a smoothie, slice them on morning cereal, put them in a salad of greens with goat cheese and nuts or halve them and toss them on the grill for a minute on each side to accompany a chicken or fish dish.

For a morning indulgence with your coffee, do as my sister does: Toast a slice of whole-grain bread, smear it with bit of sweet butter and smash a peach onto it.

August is the perfect time to create the easy dessert, Peach Melba (see recipe above), made famous by 19th-century gastronome Auguste Escoffier.

So moved was he by the voice of the Australian soprano Nellie Melba performing at Covent Garden in 1892, that Escoffier created a dessert in her honor.

Not by accident, the two main ingredients, peaches and raspberries, come to market the same time of year. You have the benefit of eating Peach Melba without singing an aria!

Karen Binder owns Madison Park Café.