When we’re all old, we’re going to remember 2013 as the summer of peaches. In years future I’ll be able to utter the phrase, “It was the summer of aught thirteen, we were dancing to the sounds of Daft Punk and peaches never tasted so sweet.” Then I’ll shake my cane at something just to drive home the point. Yes, the peaches are so good now that future me will remember them fondly (Daft Punk isn’t going to age as well.)
Peaches, botanically, Prunus persica, funny story, aren’t actually from Persia, present day Iran. They’ve been cultivated in China for more than two millennia, they were merely introduced to Europe from Persia. Besides it isn’t the persica part of the name that’s important, it’s the Prunus, the family name of peaches, apricots, plums, apricots and almonds. Occasionally, when you get the right variety of peach, you can taste the whole family tree – apricot in the skin, cherry and plum in the flesh and hints of almonds as you move toward the pit…still unsure about the almond-ness of a peach? Crack the pit open sometime and take a look at the seed, it’s striking resemblance to the almond will relieve you of any doubt.
Georgia, the so called peach state is actually the third largest producer of the fruit (and the US production pales to that of China, but only slightly behind Italy.) California, South Carolina are the big two, Oregon doesn’t really have a notable production. This is actually a bonus, while the bigger producers move their fruit throughout the United States and export them to warmer countries (trees need a cooling off period through the winter before they can blossom), Oregon growers can focus on growing tree ripened fruit for local consumers.
The peaches we see in the grocery store were by in large conceived and born in California. Flavor, taste, texture are considerations for the varieties of fruit large scale California growers select, but the primary concern for fruit is how well it can travel. The fruit is picked mature rather than ripe, so there is less damage to the hard fruit as it travels hundreds if not thousands of miles before they reach their destination and ripen.
In contrast, Trevor Baird of Baird Family Orchards, brought peaches to the Thursday afternoon Market that he had picked that morning. The ability to pick tree-ripened fruit means the Bairds are able to grow varieties selected for flavor more than any other quality. When shopping for the perfect peach, the one that we’ll remember in our advanced years, look for a fruit that’s firm but with a little give, a juicy fruit will always feel heavy for it’s size and for peaches that aren’t quite ripe, leave them at room temperature (a closed brown paper bag will accelerate the ripening process). Once peaches are ripe and only then, can they be refrigerated. One last thing, those soft brown spots you see on peaches, it’s not a bruise, it’s a sugar pocket or the much talked about, rarely realized sweet spot. Instead of avoiding, embrace the fruit bearing this mark.
I buy store peaches all the time and as good as they can be, they’re never memorable. The other problem with store bought peaches; except for the odd donut peach, you really only ever see generic peaches. Area farmers markets offer countless varieties with endless subtleties: Sweet Sues, Lucky 13, Elberta, White Lady, the havens – sunhavens, redhaven, fairhaven – Visit Baird, Kiyokawa, Maryhill or any other of our tree fruit growers for vintage peaches. The season started early this year and will linger on, but it won’t last forever – you should eat as many as you can, as often as you can.