I suspect U-pick farms are like Tom Sawyer whitewashing the fence. Remember how crafty Tom got his friends to pay for the privilege of doing his chore?
We city dwellers will gladly pay to work as farmhands to pick crops for the pleasure of breathing in fresh country air and getting in touch with nature. Aside from a fun outing, there are other good reasons to pick your own. What could be fresher than fruit plucked right off the trees? And certainly picking your own is substantially cheaper than market prices.
So last week, the whole family piled into two cars and headed to Brentwood in East Contra Costa County, about an hour and a half’s drive from San Francisco, where U-pick farms and roadside stands abound. Having reviewed the Brentwood Harvest Time website, we selected Wolfe Ranch, a well-manicured orchard and home to Elberta peaches, for our farm experience.
Elberta peaches are a well-loved, old-fashioned variety that’s not available in many markets today, explained Cathy Voortman, a member of the Wolfe family who was on hand to greet the U-pickers. They’ve fallen out of favor in mass marketing because Elbertas are delicate and bruise easily. This makes the variety especially suited to the U-pick model, where the peaches go directly from trees to pails to cars to homes, with a minimum amount of jostling.
Elbertas are a freestone variety, meaning the pit easily disengages when the peach is cut in half, as opposed to clingstone, where the stone or pit clings to the fruit, so you have to cut around it. Elbertas are great for baking and canning, as well as for eating out of hand. This variety has a fuzzy skin, fine texture and nice, peachy flavor and aroma.
After an explanation of the U-pick process, out we went into the orchard with our plastic pails to pick peaches. Well, to be honest, mostly we stood around in the shade, taking pictures and watching Steve get on the ladder and pick the fruit. After our hard “work,” we went into the town of Brentwood for a hearty brunch before heading home with our harvest, dreaming of pies, crisps, shortcake and jam.
Whether you get them from a U-pick farm, the farmers’ market or a supermarket, here are a few peach selection and storage tips.
- Peach season runs from June to September, so enjoy them while you can.
- To select ripe peaches, ignore the red blush and examine the rest of the fruit instead. The overall color should be golden and the fruit should feel slightly soft and aromatic. Fruits with a green tinge and those that are hard are not ripe.
- To ripen peaches, turn them stem-side down and set them on a counter.
- Once ripened, eat the peaches within in a few days or refrigerate for longer storage.
- To peel peaches, gently drop them into a pot of boiling water for about 30 seconds, remove with a slotted spoon, then drop the peaches into a bowl of ice water to cool quickly. Skins will slip off easily.
Here’s what I made with some of the peaches.
Easy Peach Crisp
1/3 cup plus ¼ cup flour, divided
1/3 cup plus ¼ cup sugar, divided
1/8 teaspoon salt
6 cups peeled peaches cut in ½-inch wedges (about 2 ¾ pounds)
1 cup old-fashioned oats
¼ cup coarsely chopped walnuts
4 tablespoons chilled butter, cut in ½-inch pieces
Vanilla ice cream or whipped cream, if desired
Heat oven to 375 degrees F. Lightly grease a 9-inch, deep-dish pie pan. In a large bowl, combine 1/3 cup of the flour, 1/3 cup of the sugar and salt; mix well. Add peaches and using hands, toss to combine thoroughly. Put into pie plate.
In a medium bowl, combine oats, the remaining ¼ cup flour, the remaining ¼ cup sugar and walnuts; mix well. Add butter and mix in with fingers, breaking up the butter cubes and incorporating with the dry ingredients, to form pea-size crumbles. Sprinkle mixture evenly over peaches.
Bake until topping is golden, filling is bubbly and peaches are tender, about 35 to 40 minutes. Serve warm or cold, with vanilla ice cream or lightly whipped cream, if desired.
Makes 8 servings.
- If your peaches are tart, instead of the 1/3 cup of sugar called for in the recipe for the filling, use ½ cup.
- If peaches are especially juicy, you might want to add more flour; instead of the 1/3 cup of flour called for in this recipe for the filling, use as much as ½ cup.
What else to do with peaches? Slice over hot or cold cereal, and add them to salads, yogurt or ice cream, or blend them into smoothies. Or try these recipes:
- Grilled Peach Sundaes by Andrew Hunter is great dessert for backyard barbecues. Top warm peaches with vanilla ice cream.
- Peach and Nectarine Compote, a recipe by Marilyn Hunter, can be served as a warm fruit salad or as a topping for pancakes, waffles or ice cream.
- Summer Fruit Shortcake can be made in two easy steps: make the shortcake dough in advance and freeze; then bake and fill with sliced peaches and whipped cream when ready to serve.
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