Seattle-based alternative rock band Presidents of the United States professed their love of peaches in the 1996 Grammy-nominated song aptly named “Peaches,” but were the band from far East County, the members wouldn’t be singing about canned peaches; they’d be singing about the lush, rich flavor of peaches freshly plucked from the orchard.
Many people in the Bay Area know that if you want to pick fresh fruit, Brentwood is the place to be. Hoards of people come to Brentwood each summer in search of the reddest, most succulent cherries, but unknown to many, U-Pick season runs all summer long. The cherries disappear by early June, but the peaches are ready for the picking even in August.
Take your pick
Mike McKinney, owner of McKinney Farms: A Peachy Place, offers 19 varieties of peaches and its sister fruit, the nectarine. McKinney has been offering the U-Pick experience to locals and tourists since the end of May and will continue to offer peaches for a few more weeks.
“There are a lot of different varieties of peaches, and each tree harvests for about a week to 10 days, so if you plant a variety of trees, you can produce peaches throughout the summer,” McKinney said. “It’s been an interesting year. With the cooler spring and the rains, the season started a little later, but it’s been a good season so far.”
McKinney Farms, located at 25221 Marsh Creek Road, is a member of Harvest Time, a nonprofit organization dedicated to improving agri-tourism in far East County. McKinney credits participation in the program as a way to gain more exposure to tourists. During CornFest weekend, some guests picked up Harvest Time maps and concluded their Brentwood adventure with a tour of the local farms and ranches. For those new to U-Pick, McKinney said the best thing to do is to just come out and give it a try. “You can’t knock it until you’ve tried it, and there’s nothing like picking fruit right off the tree. You won’t find anything fresher, and it’s a great family experience.”
Over at The Farmer’s Daughter Produce and U-Pick Farm, located at the intersection of Walnut Boulevard and Marsh Creek Road, clingstone and yellow peaches are ready for U-Pick. According to worker Kiersten Walker, U-Pick peaches are popular pickings this time of year. Each weekend, the farm sees about 250 pickers, and those unfamiliar with the U-Pick drill can be escorted into the orchards by the farm’s employees, who can identify different types of peaches and offer tips on spotting the best ones and picking them.
“We like to have U-Pickers try different types of peaches so that they’ll be satisfied with the peaches they pick,” Walker explained. “We show them how to check ripeness and how to handle the peaches so that they don’t bruise the fruit. We see hundreds of people each week and they really seem to enjoy the U-Pick experience.”
Although the stand stocks plenty of picked peaches, Walker and her fellow employees encourage folks to dive into the U-Pick adventure. Farmer’s Daughter supplies all the materials needed for a successful sortie out into the orchard.
Cathy Wolfe at Wolfe Ranch said the peach U-Pick season isn’t as well known as the cherry season. Most people aren’t aware that U-Pick season extends through the summer to other crops such as apricots and plums. The last of the suncrest peach crop will be picked this weekend, but coming in August, the yellow Fay Elberta peaches will be ripe and ready at Wolfe Ranch, located at 164 Payne Ave.
What’s unique about Wolfe Ranch is the rare variety of peaches available for U-Pick. “We’ve got old-fashioned varieties that have been around for a long time,” Wolfe said. “These peaches are really delicate and bruise easily, so they don’t ship well post harvest, but just off the tree, these peaches are some of the best you’ve ever tasted.”
To your health
Taking a mouthful out of a fresh peach means you’re taking in optimal vitamins and minerals. Once peaches have been picked and stored – whether at the stand, the grocery store or at home – their nutritional value begins to decline, so a U-Pick trip means getting the healthiest fruit available.
According to the American Cancer Society, peaches are packed with phytochemicals, known to combat cancer cells. Peaches are a good source of fiber, potassium, calcium and are rich in vitamin C. Peach consumption is also good for the digestive tract. The reddish hue of peach skin signifies that the fruit is high in antioxidants such as lycopene and lutein, which are helpful in protecting the eyes and skin. A medium-size peach contains about 60 calories plus protein, iron, magnesium, vitamins A and B, phosphorus and folate – all highly beneficial to your health.
Although raw peaches provide the greatest nutritional value, there are dozens of ways to prepare peaches. From peach pie and cobbler to salsas and smoothies, peaches can be incorporated into a variety of meals throughout the day. But Wolfe warned that even healthy fruits such as peaches should be consumed in moderation.
“Of course peach pies are popular, but you can’t have pie every day or your waistline is going to regret it,” Wolfe said. “A slice or two doesn’t hurt, but my favorite way to have peaches is in a bowl of cereal. Peaches are flavorful and go with a lot of unexpected food combinations. You just need to give them a try.”
A surprising way to add peaches to a meal this summer is to incorporate them into kabobs with chicken or fish and other fruits and veggies such as tomatoes and peppers. Grill them on the barbecue for a smokin’ sweet dish. Internet searches for peach-incorporating recipes will return a bevy of results, so be prepared to take notes or have your printer on standby.
The Harvest Time website, www.harvest4you.com, recommends that U-Pickers call farms in advance to check for availability. Once you’re at the farm, collect as much fruit as you can carry. If you end up with more than you bargained for, you can always share your harvest with family, friends, coworkers and neighbors, or preserve the peaches in juices, jams or jellies. Canning and freezing peaches are other option to make sure you get the most of your pickings, and by preserving peaches in a variety of ways, you can enjoy flavorful East County peaches all year long.
Websites such as www.pickyourownfruit.org and videos available on YouTube will instruct you in various ways to preserve peaches, but if you’re still at a loss, talk with the farmers and their staff. They’ll be more than happy to offer assistance.
For a complete list of local farms offering peaches for U-Pick, visit www.harvest4you.com.