This time of year, Marjorie Ross lives peaches seven days a week.
On her own property near “Utah’s Famous Fruit Way,” which runs along U.S. 89, Ross cares for about 60 peach trees, using their rich and golden annual produce for herself, and giving or selling some to friends, family and a few lucky longtime customers.
Though the Fruit Way’s vendors sell many kinds of fruits and vegetables, Ross said, “Peaches are the grandfather. This is such an easy growing area for peaches. It’s just natural right here.”
Natural, and naturally blessed, because peaches are special.
This relative of the rose is the apple’s softer, sexier, fuzzier, juicier cousin — endlessly adaptable, great in desserts, with savory dishes or all by itself, equally at home in American classics (cobbler) and up-to-date fare (mango-peach salsa, anyone?).
“There isn’t much you can’t do with them,” Ross said.
Ross said there are good nectarines, even those shipped in from out of state, available everywhere for most of the summer. Peaches, however, benefit from local production and handling, she said.
“You can get a decent nectarine at the grocery store, but I don’t think you can get a decent peach at the grocery store,” Ross said. “I have my own nectarine tree, but they don’t look as nice as the ones at the store. They’re a little more difficult to grow than others. …
“We’ve got so many varieties of peaches up here. If you ask my employees, they’ve all got a favorite variety, and they’re all good. I’ll be out picking them myself, and I’ll think, ‘I just need to see if this is how it should be,’ and I’ll take one and rub it on my pants and have a bite.”
The Fruit Way’s first peaches appear around mid-July each year, with early varieties suitable more for fresh eating than canning. After that, the season runs all the way through the beginning of October, with later varieties wonderful for both purposes.
The names of each variety are another kind of wonderful, a word salad that reads like a list of alternating race horses and roller derby competitors: Flaming Fury and Blushing Star, Fairhaven and Sierra Gem, Autumn Lady and Angelus, Early Elberta and Canadian Harmony.
Of course, visitors to the Fruit Way don’t really care about the names, Ross said. Besides the peaches, they’re after the experience.
“It’s a taste of the past, an experience of the past,” she said. “We’ve talked about how we could expand and make things different, and I just want to keep it small. We don’t do anything we can’t do local. We just want to be that hometown fruit stand you came to when you were a kid. It’s a good product, and it’s a natural, homegrown feeling.”
It’s also an experience that might not be around much longer, she said. Some older generations of orchard owners are leaving the business. Younger generations are choosing to divide the land on which peaches have grown since Utah’s pioneer days and sell it for housing and other types of development.
“It’s sad to think that five, 10 years down the road, the scenery is probably going to change along the Fruit Way,” Ross said. “It’s too bad, because it’s (happening) right as there’s a renewed interest in canning and eating more naturally and locally and homegrown. That’s a big deal among the younger generation.”
So bite into that juicy, locally grown peach while you can. Just like its season, it won’t last forever.
Brigham City’s annual Peach Days celebration happens every year on the weekend following Labor Day; this year, that’s Sept. 7-10. The festival kicks off on Sept. 7 with the Junior Peach Queen pageant, continues the next night with the Miss Brigham City pageant and features dozens of events, from parades to car shows to plays, meals and fun runs, throughout the weekend. For more information, visit www.brighamchamber.com/peach-days/
Peaches on the Inside
A single peach contains 40-70 calories (40 calories per 100 grams of peach) and is fat-free, according to webmd.com. Like nearly all fruits, it contains sugar, about eight grams per peach.
Peaches are nutritional powerhouses, containing vitamins A and C as well as beta-carotene, according to nutrition-and-you.com. They are rich sources of the vital minerals potassium, fluoride and iron. They even have a bit of protein, 1-2 grams per peach. They have about 3 grams of fiber and moderate antioxidants, as well.
Peaches are known for their complex, earthy and sweet flavor, but much of that flavor profile depends on when a peach is harvested and whether it is allowed to ripen on the tree. A peach’s sweetness increases as it ripens, and its flavors will be more complex if that ripening occurs primarily or entirely on the tree. That means, of course, that locally harvested peaches are most likely to have the richest taste.
Although ripe peaches exude a heavenly aroma, smell isn’t the best way to test a peach for ripeness, said Marjorie Ross. Use your hands for that.
“I test peaches with my whole hand, a light squeeze for a little give,” she said. “And yes, peaches (grown and) sold locally obviously have ripened more on the tree and are not picked so green to ship. Tree-ripened is always best. We hope that we pick at the right moment, mostly ripe but still firm so you can get the peach home without bruising. It can be a tricky thing!”