The fruits of summer can be wonderful! Some say the fruits of summer are the delightful activities of lounging on the beach next to the surf, while others claim playing a round of golf on cool green grass is the best fruit of summer. But food lovers like me say the best fruits of summer are peaches and tomatoes.
Let’s don’t get into the argument about tomatoes being a fruit, but instead look at the reward in eating them. There are folks who don’t like one or the other, but I like both peaches and tomatoes. Summer harvest time is when they taste the best. The real good news is they both can be eaten many ways in multiple recipes, or eaten fresh out of the hand.
Even though you may think that Georgia the “Peach State” is the origin of the peach, botanists and Wikipedia tell a different story of its history. Its botanical name, Prunus persica, suggests the peach is native to Persia, but it actually originated in China where it has been cultivated since the early days of Chinese culture. Historians say peaches were mentioned in Chinese writings as far back as the tenth century BC and were a favored fruit of emperors. The Persians brought the peach from China and passed it on to the Romans. The peach was brought to America by Spanish explorers in the sixteenth century and eventually made it to England and France in the seventeenth century and to Georgia.
Even though Thomas Jefferson grew peaches, United States farmers did not begin commercial production until the nineteenth century in Maryland, Delaware, Georgia and finally North Carolina and Virginia. California grows 65% of peaches grown for commercial production in the United States; but the northern states, Colorado, Michigan, and Washington also grow a significant amount. Italy, China, India and Greece are major producers of peaches outside of the United States.
Almost every grocery sells peaches in summer and North Carolina is a good place to find them at local farmer’s markets or visit a grower in the eastern part of the state and buy them super fresh. This year, we had some great ones from Johnson Farms in Candor. We just finished a peck of cling-free white peaches and a peck of yellow ones. We ate them freshly sliced on salads, cereal, pies, yogurt and mixed with strawberries and blueberries. Yumm! To find a farm to visit go to buyncpeaches.com.
North Carolina is the 7th top producer of peaches nationally, producing an average of 3.6 million pounds for the fresh market each year (2016 USDA). Four months is the average NC peach season, spanning from June — September and peaking in July. You can read more at https://peaches.ces.ncsu.edu/peaches-statistics/. Over 70 varieties are grown in NC each year.
What to Buy
The North Carolina Department of Agriculture suggests looking for peaches with a creamy to gold under-color that best shows ripeness. Choose peaches that are beginning to soften for immediate use. Pick peaches with a yellow or blush color, but not a greenish color, since they will not ripen well. Peaches can be stored in the refrigerator to slow their ripening for around 10 days.
Even though I only grew eight tomato plants this year, we had a banner crop from five varieties. We ate tomatoes fresh, cooked, and sauced, and my wife even made delicious tomato pies. In addition, we were able to share at our church and with family and neighbors. All tomato lovers know the delicious juicy taste of a ripe summer tomato loaded with all its nutrients. Many people just wait for that great big tomato sandwich with lettuce, mayonnaise and sliced white bread each year. And, yes, my father-in-law taught me how to smear peanut butter on one slice to make a really different, but delicious, variation on the tomato sandwich. Even more folks like tomatoes on pizza or put it into sauces with pasta and spaghetti. But have you ever tried peaches on pizza? I haven’t, but I do like pineapple on pizza.
How about mixing these two summer fruits together into a special recipe you won’t forget? Try some of these different recipes such as the following from southernliving.com/food:
Tomato-peach and corn salad, Peach Bundt cake, and Grilled Peach and Arugula Salad with Feta.
Gwyn Riddick is a North Carolina Certified Plantsman and former owner of Riddick Greenhouses & Nursery. He is a Fellow of the Natural Resources Leadership Institute (NCSU). If you have gardening questions, send them to Gwyn Riddick at The High Point Enterprise, 213 Woodbine St., High Point, N.C. 27260, or email firstname.lastname@example.org.