Saturday, September 18, 2010


I recently had my taste buds tantalized with a yellow peach that appears to be the best that I have ever tasted. I don’t even know the variety but it prompted me to question my age old perception and experience that the best peaches came from either South Carolina or the sacred orchards of Georgia or robust California (aptly named the Golden State) which grows 65% of the commercial US crop. Not that I have been on some lifelong quest for the grail of peaches… I haven’t. My epiphany just happened and the difference was so startling that I had to share it with my Friends.

Now I know that the quality of any variety of vegetable or fruit is dependent on a multitude of factors that include, among others, terroir (soil), weather [that perfect combination of heat (dry) and cool (wet)] and when Mother Nature fails - sophisticated, 21st century agricultural protocols that will help produce the optimum product.

Now having said that I purchased peaches from the same orchard in South Carolina for many years and understanding that while this particular orchard strategically prunes their trees, they mostly leave them to the rigors and vagaries of Mother Nature. Those peaches come naturally and have been mostly great hence my repeat visits. I noted over those years, however, that the taste and overall quality of those peaches varied from year to year and pretty much validates my original premise that it all depends on annual growth conditions.
Well, it’s a lot more complicated/simple than that...

Strategically, it all comes down to when the peach is picked as this fruit unlike bananas does not continue to ripen and improve when removed from the tree. As a matter of fact, even with our sophisticated refrigerated trucks and warehouses, a peach plucked from the tree too early can be tasteless and as I found earlier this year – mealy. I gave those early tainted purchases to the local north Dallas squirrel population who forever humiliated and disgusted with my offering will never forgive me for that scandalous indiscretion. My sincere apologies

I judge my peach purchases on critical factors such as Juiciness, sweetness (sugar content – aka brix), acidity, texture, color (blush), size (yes, that too matters), fragrance-floral aroma, texture and my attitude and expectations at that time. If all those stars are not aligned then I could be disappointed. It wasn’t until after a predictably spontaneous purchase this late summer which brought that point home and prompted this post.

Award winning food writer Jeffrey Steingarten who since 1989 has been the food critic at Vogue Magazine, defined and redefined the perfect Peach in his June 2002 Vogue article The Sweetest Thing and agrees with the criticality of the timing of the pick. This three year study while seemingly tainted by a northeastern perspective hits pretty much close to home with a western conclusion. Given that his article was written in 2002 it might be appropriate that he update his observations given this eight year interval. This very talented and very funny guy deserves your attention and we recommend him heartily.

Alice Waters, food activist and the venerable chef-owner of the world renowned Chez Panisse restaurant in Berkeley, California, noted in her book Chez Panisse Fruit, "Nothing is better than a fruit in its own proper season, perfectly ripened and handled with care by the people who harvest it." As I have said, nothing before its time

The peach originated in China, where it was (and still is) believed to impart the power of immortality. The Peach found its way to the New World with the help of Persian traders then Alexander the Great, the Romans and then ultimately via the Spanish who brought the peach and horse (back) to the Americas. First Nations and later other early American émigrés under the very able influence of our Founding Fathers catapulted the peach to ultimate popularity.

Both George Washington and Thomas Jefferson grew peaches. Jefferson was the more enthusiastic of the two growing thirty-eight varieties to George’s two. Jefferson considered the fruit a great delicacy and took peaches to an ever higher level using them to make Mobby, a cider-like brew which could be distilled further into a brandy. Consistent with Jefferson’s commitment to the Peach, Monticello's orchards are now planted with 45 nineteenth-century varieties.

But, let’s cut to the chase. Where do the best peaches come from NOW? That question was answered for me by my most recent purchase and the affirmation of that wonderful Wisconsin-based market, Brennan’s. Those folks have been around since 1942 and their practice has always been to buy direct from the source - no middle man (uh person) here.

Thea Miller, Product Manager/Buyer at Brennan's Market in Madison, WI (and pretty good writer) is carrying on that tradition – if it ain’t broke, don’t fix it. Their peaches, thanks to current Brennan’s Market owner Skip Brennan who many years ago traveled to Caldwell, Idaho, are the offerings of John and Jim Symms, peach growers extraordinaire and owners of Symms Fruit Ranch.

Symms operates a 4,500 acre spread in southwest Idaho where they grow a variety of fruit including six varieties of peaches which grow in rich volcanic soil on the hills overlooking the Snake River - a happy but not surprising coincidence for this old river runner and whitewater guide. Their orchard is located in Sunny Slope about 30 miles southwest of Boise, Idaho where they enjoy a favorable and unique micro climate that assures that each and every peach ripens to perfection.

I sincerely believe that the Idaho is the best peach available in the marketplace today and the peach that I enjoy (though mine did not come from Brennan’s), did come from Idaho and Symms. It met all my criteria and exceeded all my expectations. It’s almost enough to make me start canning peaches…

So, that’s the rest of the story – it’s all about Idaho. Let’s open this door even further… This writer does wonder after going to all this trouble to elevate the noble Idaho Peach if any Might of Right readers have tasted Flathead Cherries from Montana? Ever had a Montana Huckleberry (purple gold) shake? Ohhhhhhhhhhhhhhh my………………

It would certainly seem that the Northwest has been quietly going about their business at being the best at most of what they do, proud of their natural resources, accomplishments, happy to contribute to the whole and scared to death that folks are going to come and stay.


Ned Buxton

PS - Yesterday was October 3rd and while late in the season we picked up another delectable crate of peaches from Costco. Yes, they were from Caldwell, Idaho and the Symms Fruit Ranch. They continue to exceed my very high expectations. Hope this season goes on forever... Aye.

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