Monday, July 26, 2010
Really Love Your Peaches
Peaches are in season in Oregon - a blissful monthish long celebration of local bounty. Outside of of the state, peaches pretty much reflect the modern domestic market for all fruits - Callie is the home of most of the crop 80% of it. Georgia, South Carolina, New Jersey, Pennsylvania, Michigan and Washington make up the rest of the market. Like other fruits and veg; US farmers are dropping production as S. America is picking it up. Chile is the number 1 importer, almost exclusively in the form of fresh fruits in the winter months (as opposed to flooding the market with preserved fruits). 40 years ago there were 14 pounds of peaches available for each resident, now we have 9 pounds each. We eat roughly the same amount of fresh fruit - canned has taken the brunt of the decline; 1977 was the last year we ate more canned peaches than fresh.
I like my peaches homegrown and they go almost exclusively to Oregonians, at least according to a published study by Oregon State University, most of Oregon’s peaches are sold directly to consumers. The local market makes sense, The Department of Ag tells us in 2009, growers were paid on average about $800 per ton for fresh peaches and around $300 for processing grade fruit. If I pay $3 a pound at the farmers market and there are 2000 pounds in a ton…I am glad that that money is going to the local grower.
Selling directly to consumers is one way to fetch a premium for a crop. Another way is grow exotic varieties. White fleshed peaches and nectarines are something you will see more and more at the markets – not a new variety, actually this low acid variety hearkens back to the 1850s, when yellow varieties took over (the color looks better coming out of a can)(really). And before the US was a glimmer in Americo Vespucio’s telescope, white fleshed peaches were prized in China. Flat, donut or Saturn peaches are another variation on what was once old is now new – these varieties were purportedly grown so Chinese Emperors would not suffer the humiliation of having juices spill into their beards.
China is the ancestral homeland to the peach even though the fruit’s Latin name persica means Persia, which is probably where they came to the attention of the Roman Empire; Romans liked fresh foods more than their Greek predecessors. The trees came to this continent with the Spaniards in the 16th century. And just to close the circle - a breeding frenzy close to the 20th century, not that dissimilar to the dot-com boom a century later, had nursery men, the entrepreneurs of that era, importing trees and seeds from China looking for the next killer fruit.
The story of how the Elberta peach, born of this fruit bubble, became the most popular peach in the world and the peach-daddy to almost every cultivar and landrace in the US is a post onto itself. And that will have to wait, because I have peaches to eat.