Saturday, September 12, 2009

A Real Peach

Recent surveys reveal that a significant number of consumers prefer crunchy peaches bred to have a hard, cargo-truck friendly exterior. Most of us have never tasted a good peach, let alone a downy pastel orb bursting with sweet nectar when plucked right from the tree. As Marshall McLuhan pointed out, we've become so removed from reality that we're starting to prefer artificiality. Part of the reason we think fake is fine is the narrow selection. Turgid peaches aren't even sold in supermarkets, mainly because they can't be shipped. Ken Slingerland, a peach breeder for the Ontario Ministry of Agriculture, positively loathes juicy peaches. "They squish all over your face," he told me. "We believe that consumers would rather have a peach that's like a nice crunchy apple. Everyone has their preference, and the texture I like is 'crispy.'" Another farmer I spoke to referred to industrial peaches as "plastic Kraft dinner fruit created by dead brains."

Perhaps the crunchers believe the only alternative is mushy, insipid peaches. But peaches exist that are light-years better than anything we're being sold. Some growers refer to those as "chiropractic fruits," because they're so juicy you need to bend over when eating them. But maybe you'll like crispy best too. As a new peach campaign asks: "Are you a Cruncher, Leaner, or In-betweener?"

If you haven't, try a real leaner peach before making up your mind. As David Masumoto, farmer and author of Epitaph for a Peach, writes of the variety grown on his family's land: "Sun Crest is one of the last remaining truly juicy peaches ... so juicy that it oozes down your chin. The nectar explodes in your mouth and the fragrance enchants your nose." Juiciness doesn't mean that the fruit is totally soft; on the contrary, texture is very important. According to stone-fruit expert Andy Mariani of Andy's Orchard in Morgan Hill, California, should have "pleasant resistance," a firmness that yields to sufficient pressure. Only after our teeth force through the cell walls should the fruit open its floodgates. "It can be an almost sexual experience for some people," says Mariani.

The texture and flavor of Mariani's Baby Crawford peach is a kaleidoscope of sweetness, acidity, some astringency - pure peach ecstasy. "It looks hard, but melts in your mouth. It just oozes nectar," he says. Masumoto, blown away after tasting the Baby Crawford, acknowledges that its even better than the Sun Crest.

I tasted enough Baby Crawfords to go dizzy when I visited Andy's Orchard in the summer of 2005. The following year when I called Mariani to check in on the peaches, he sadly informed me that heavy rains and warmer than usual weather had destroyed the entire crop. "The search for the perfect peach is elusive," he said. "It's good for a moment, then a few days later it's gone. Its hard to grow. Nuances in humidity and temperature over one night can drastically affect quality." No wonder growers use any means at their disposal. The fact that fruits ever make it to us is almost heroic.

- From The Fruit Hunters
A Story of Nature, Adventure, Commerce and Obsession

Adam Leith Gollner

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