peaches nearing peak perfection
Aspen Times Weekly
Peach lovers, keep hanging in there. The wooden fruit crates at farmers’ markets may have been disappointingly low on the fuzzy stuff for weeks, but that’s about to change.
“We opened a bit later than usual this season, because we didn’t have the local fruit,” says Skip Doty, owner of Early Morning Orchard in Palisade and new boss of the 30-year-old Buttermilk Fruit Stand. “In the next six weeks — through the middle of September — there will be enough peaches for everyone out here.”
In April, crop-crushing frosts from Palisade to Paonia killed most of the cherry, plum and apricot blossoms, but many peach buds survived. What’s more, extreme temperatures again in June pushed the peach harvest forward by about 10 days compared to last year, says Wayne Talmage, of White Buffalo Farm in Paonia, which means the season for Colorado’s favorite stone fruit will hit its stride in the next couple of weeks.
Tough luck for fans of other fruit, however. For one, “the cherry crop was pretty much wiped out,” Talmage says. “It was so cold that all of Grand Junction, the warmest place to grow fruit, lost almost everything. They’re catching the edge of the polar jet stream from the ice cap melting. It’s had a real impact on food in our region.”
In Paonia and Hotchkiss, farmer Kris Kropp is counting his blessings: his First Fruits Organic Farm is barely keeping up with demand. “Everyone is coming to us. We have almost a full crop,” says Kropp, who expects to hawk about a thousand pounds of peaches per Aspen Saturday Market. “We see miracles every year, but this boggles our minds.”
Though Colorado isn’t the most prolific peach producer — those are California, South Carolina, Georgia and New Jersey, according to the National Agricultural Statistics Service — “everyone knows about Palisade peaches,” Doty says proudly.
Doty’s Early Morning Orchard, which is the primary supplier of the Buttermilk Fruit Stand, has been cultivating fruit for more than 110 years. (Some of the farmers there can trace their roots back that far — five generations.) Unlike other growers in the region, Doty is focused on developing the ripest peaches to sell at retail markets, instead of for shipment hundreds and hundreds of miles away.
“In one way it’s a big business, in another, it’s person-to-person,” Doty says.
Now, workers from Early Morning Orchard are shuttling fresh produce two hours to the Buttermilk Fruit Stand every day.
“Last year, we had a fair amount of spoilage,” Doty says. “I’d much rather have [fruit] as fresh as possible. We’re trying to be up on the farm-to-table movement, so everything was picked either [recently].”
That’s good news for eaters, as mealy texture, browning and lack of sweetness in peaches are linked to post-harvest refrigeration shock and premature picking, which are almost inescapable when fruit must survive days of transport.
Thankfully, the Roaring Fork Valley won’t see much of that. “Everyone has places to sell locally, and you have to take care of those first,” Doty says. “A certain amount [of peaches] will travel out of the region, but nothing like last year. We are lucky.”
Yes, we are.
— Amanda Rae dreams of 8K executive chef Will Nolan’s Foie Gras PB&J with house-made peach pepper jelly. Oh, yeah. Reach her at email@example.com.