I just spent two weeks working in the salesroom of my parents’ orchard. It is the prime time for freestone peaches, so we were VERY busy. Last Saturday was the busiest day they have ever had–about 350 people. The good thing is the beautiful fruit I brought home with me! White and yellow peaches, nectarines, apples, and seedless grapes. I brought enough peaches home to freeze some.
Being at the orchard and answering a lot of fruit questions for customers made me think that I should post some of the information here.
1. Why aren’t all the peaches ripe enough to eat right away?
Peaches are very perishable, particularly when ripe. We grade out ripe peaches and sell them for almost 50% off because they tend to bruise and have skin breaks. When you buy firm peaches that are not quite ripe, unless you plan on using them all at once to preserve, keep them refrigerated while they are still unripe and remove 2 or 3 at a time to ripen. They will last a lot longer than if you let them all get ripe and soft and then try to keep them. When you are choosing peaches for purchase, do not push your thumb into the peach–it will leave a big bruise just the size of your thumb. Also, please resist the temptation to pick up a peach and stick it to your nose (and lips) to smell it. Inevitably, customers who do this put the peach back for someone else to buy. It is really rude and unsanitary.
2. Can I freeze peaches?
Absolutely. Remove the skin (makes great jelly), cut into slices, spray with a little lemon juice to prevent them turning brown and put into a freezer bag laid out flat in the freezer. I have also cut them up with sweetener and frozen them in a plastic container for making ice cream or using as an ice cream topping. There is no reason ever to throw away one or more peaches because you can’t use them fast enough. Thin sliced peaches can also be dehydrated.
3. Nectarines are just for eating…right?
Wrong. Nectarines are great in a tart or used liked peaches in cobblers.
4. I need a lot of peaches for (canning, freezing, etc.) What is the best deal I can get?
If you are going to use the peaches within a couple of days, peeling and cutting them up, I suggest you check to see if your local grower sells #2 quality. They may not be real pretty, but you can save a lot even if you have to cut out a hail mark or bruise. If they do not sell #2′s, it may be an indication that they are not grading their peaches, and you are paying full price for less than #1 quality.
5. What variety tastes the best?
Dad grows about 30 varieties of peaches. Even he can’t tell the difference between most of them in a blind taste test. Most of the customers who buy from the orchard choose their peaches (and other fruit) by size and color. Peach varieties with redder skins sell much quicker than varieties that have more yellow, even though the flavor is the same. People will also pay double for large peaches which we grade out to put into small, expensive boxes. Right now a variety called Glow Haven is available that has nice color and a large size–it is funny to watch people gravitate towards those boxes like they are calling the customer’s name. Actually smaller fruit like peaches and apples may keep longer and taste better.
6. Can I grow peaches from a pit?
No. Peach trees, like apple trees, are grafted by adding a cutting of the variety of fruit you want onto a root stock. It isn’t difficult to do yourself or can be bought at many nurseries. Peach trees are good for the home garden. They have fewer disease and pest problems than apples. Prune them when young to open into a four-pronged trunk that spreads out wide. This allows the sun to penetrate the tree and ripen and color the peaches evenly. Don’t be afraid to thin the young fruit so you will get decent size. My dad usually thins his to no more than two peaches per limb.
My parents have been growing and selling fruit for 50 years. My father is 82 and grew up on an orchard. They only sell fruit that grows on trees, bushes, and vines–cherries, grapes, blackberries, blueberries, peaches, pears, apples, etc. They never heard the term “permaculture”, but that is all they grow. Hmm, they have also never heard of “prepping” but have always been ready “just in case.”
I will post some information later about apples.