Plentiful rains in the spring followed by the recent dry spell have been a great combination for this year’s peach crop.
Fresh peaches are available now at local farmers markets, orchards and farm stores, and the fruit will be celebrated on Aug. 16, with the 32nd annual Virginia State Peach Festival at DeHart Park in Stuart.
And, as if perhaps to extend the power of the peach this season, readers have suggested a variety of recipes to enjoy these fruit.
All of that starts with this year’s crop, which “was very good,” said Shirley Hinshaw of Shirley’s Orchard in Henry.
It wasn’t “any one thing” that made the peaches so good, her husband, Vernon Hinshaw, said, although “the weather was good to us.”
First, the peach blossoms and then young peaches made it through without frost to destroy them as happens some years. “Then of course you need good rains to make them good sized,” he said. “There was plenty of rain this year.”
The final touch is a dry spell just before the ripening. Dryer weather near harvest time “helps with the sugar content,” said Tammy Goodyear of the Farm Service Agency in Patrick County.
The Hinshaws have a little more than 400 trees on 4 acres, Vernon Hinshaw said. The Hinshaws sell all their peaches to buyers who come to the orchard, many of whom travel long distances.
Peach trees live about 30 years, he said, but “the productive life of one is 15 to 20.” Raising peaches is “a year-round project.”
When the leaves start falling, it’s time to start pruning, and spraying starts in spring. Right after the flowers bloom, blossoms are thinned out.
Normally frost thins out many blossoms on its own, Vernon Hinshaw said, but this year, the Hinshaws hand-thinned about 90% of the blossoms, so that the remaining fruits would grow well. He counted taking 1,800 blossoms off just one tree, although he has remembered taking “well over 2,500” off other trees.
“This year we still left way too many on them,” he said, adding that a good tree produces about 5 to 7 bushels of fruit.
“Overall I think most producers are very pleased with their crops,” Goodyear said. “There were some varieties that weren’t as plentiful, but overall we’ve got a good crop. The flavor is excellent on them – a very good flavor.”
Peaches should be picked before they are fully ripe, she said. “If you get a peach and it’s hard, let it sit for two or three days, and it makes all the world in flavor. It will continue to ripen, and it makes a world of difference how sweet that peach is.”
Looking for fresh peaches?
Area orchards that sell to the public include:
» Shirley’s Orchard, 260 Shirley Lane, Henry; 540-365-2414.
» H.C. Harold Orchard, 5824 Willis Gap Road, Ararat; 276-251-5445.
» Windy Hill Orchards, 176 Windy Hill Lane, Ararat; 276-692-8156.
» Wade’s Orchard, Woolwine, 10690 Woolwine Highway, Woolwine; 276-930-3515.
Meanwhile, the campaign for Cobbler Gobbler is going on in Patrick County, with the final showdown to be held during the Peach Festival
Since the majority of the districts of Patrick County Board of Supervisors are up for reelection, and some slots for the Patrick County School Board also are up, “we thought it would be fun” to have a district-style cobbler-eating contest, too, Patrick County Chamber of Commerce Executive Director Rebecca Adcock said.
The chamber is accepting one candidate from each of the county’s five districts to compete in the Cobbler Gobbler EatFeat during the Peach Festival. So far Chris Prutting is set to represent the Blue Ridge District, and Stephen Walker is lined up to represent the Peters Creek District. The chamber is looking for representatives of the Dan River, Mayo River and Smith River Districts; to register, call the chamber office at 276-694-6012. The winner will take home the Golden Spoon prize.
The Peach Festival
The band Sunset Drive will perform two extended sets at the Peach Festival, and the cobbler-eating contest will be held between the two sets.
Also during the festival will include a peach pit-spitting contest throughout the evening. People can compete at any time during the event. Just eat a peach, then spit out the pit as far as you can. A flag with your name written on it will be stuck in the ground where your pit first lands. The person whose pit went the farthest by the end of the festival wins.
Admission to the Peach Festival will be $5.
Best ways to eat them
While the best way to eat peaches is fresh, with the sweet juice dripping down your arm, this also is the season for cooking with peaches.
Bulletin readers shared favorite recipes.
The collection includes Susan Winn Hodges’ peach cobbler (“Susan makes the best peach cobbler!” Heather Minter said); it has been Hodges’ handy, go-to dessert for potluck suppers for nearly 50 years. She gets peaches fresh and freezes them to use throughout the year.
The list also includes Fresh Peach Pies by Sherry Moran Vestal; Frozen Peach Dessert by Susan Henderson; the recipe for the pickled peaches Old Well Christian Church used to sell in its bazaar, by Virginia Rodgers; and Layered Peach Salad and Peach Dumplings by Hannah Sullivan.
There’s even a cocktail, Peach Mull by Hannah Sullivan.
Then there’s grilled peaches. Elizabeth Moore recommends topping them with crumbled goat cheese, and Pam Randall suggests brushing them with a mixture of honey, melted butter, salt and cayenne.
Paul Farrar mentioned the classic summer treat, homemade peach ice cream, whereas Gael Chaney said you can’t top chopping a few fresh peaches onto a bowl of vanilla ice cream.
Holly Kozelsky is a writer for the Martinsville Bulletin; contact her at 276-638-8801 ext. 243.