“Just Peachy”…”Sweet as a Peach”… “You’re a real Peach”…
There’s a reason peaches are mentioned alongside terms of endearment, in honeyed words of sweet sentiment – even, dare I say, amidst flights of juicy rapture. So round, so soft, so beautifully colored and sensuously textured, the peach is so delectable a summer treat that in 2015, it earned its own emoji ????. That emoji is evocative. Provocative. Imaginative. It is, actually, an apropos ambassador for peach as sweet fruit, as opposed to peach as socio-cultural icon (ahem Kardashians).
While a just-picked peach is a sort of luscious, juice-dripping down-your-hand-and-arm kind of summer dream best lingered upon because you know the moment and the season are fleeting, a hot-from-the oven peach cobbler with homemade whipped cream is like pure August sunshine with mellifluously floating clouds all around. A peach pie is like God’s gift to anyone lucky enough to live in that wide latitudinal swath from Penticton, Canada in the north and west to Atlanta in the south and east. And of course, while I can’t advocate for eating peaches before July or after September, canned peaches in winter are a lesson in romance amplified by nectar as nourishing to the soul as any soup.
While Maryland lies inside that great band of American farmland ideally suited to growing peaches—the trees need hot summers, mild winters, and safety from spring frost—it isn’t the most prolific crop grown in the state, a statistic owned by apples. Nevertheless, Maryland is home to almost 1,000 acres of peach orchards owned by 105 commercial farmers who last year harvested nearly 7 million pounds of the fruit.
Swann Farms is a 300-acre operation in northern Calvert County. While much of the farm’s land is devoted to sweet corn, twenty acres are used for growing a variety of peaches. Joe-Sam Swann and his family took over the farm when his father, Allen “Sambo” Swann, a fifth-generation farmer, passed in 2016. A fulltime farmer, Sambo, alongside his Uncle Bid and nephew Jody, made a success out of a farm that was –way back in colonial times when valuable land in Maryland was largely used to grow tobacco– given to a Tasker daughter, the youngest of seven children, surely a nod to her place in the family line up and her role as a female. Situated along the Patuxent River, the farm has light and sandy soil that drains quickly. Not great for tobacco, and in those times considered poor land for farming. With a little love and some modern irrigation, Swann’s agricultural inheritance is great for peaches.
Joe-Sam says Sambo worked tirelessly on the farm, almost to a fault. But it’s Sambo’s, Bid’s and Jody’s endless toil, along with Joe-Sam’s contemporary farming methods and his wife’s marketing skills, that make those 20 acres famous for peaches that are sold wholesale to places like the Anne Arundel County Public School system, Whole Foods Market and Harris Teeter, as well as to caterers committed to supporting local farmers, such as owner Anna Chaney and Executive Chef Mike Archibald at Herrington on the Bay.
Peaches take an extraordinary amount of work to bring to market. It takes two months alone of pruning in the bitter cold of February just to get the trees ready for bloom. Springtime means frost danger: the peach tree’s gorgeous pink blooms, heralds of deliciousness to come, can be wiped out overnight with one windstorm, one snow fall, one late frost. Last year, Swann Farm’s eight orchards, all with trees between seven and twenty years old, lost three entire plant varieties to a freeze; luckily, they managed to harvest more than 3000 bushels of other types. Then there is, of course, the picking and packing. Consumers want peaches at the peak of ripeness. Unlike many other fruits, peaches can be picked just short of peak ripeness. They won’t grow any larger or denser, but they will ripen off the tree. Even at this stage of almost-but-not-quite though, their skin is delicate, their flesh susceptible to bruising. It’s the policy of Swann Farms to send fruit to market within 24 hours of picking. “But still, its like threading the needle”, says Joe-Sam. “To get as close to ripe without going too soft.”
This year Swann Farms is opening their peach orchard to the public as a U Pick operation. The farm is already an established and popular site for U Pick strawberries. Three to four hundred people a day fill the six acres of farmland given over to that crop. “We’ve had such tremendous success with strawberries, so we are excited about opening up the peach orchards. We really enjoy having people down to the farm. It helps our customers understand how we produce foods they love and it provides transparency into our growing practices”, says Joe-Sam. You can check the Swann Farm Facebook page for updated information on picking times.
Regardless of color (peaches are generally yellow, blushed pink or tones of red), the fruit’s skin should have an even color all over. There shouldn’t be any green or white near the stem. The flesh should be firm but give to slight pressure. And of course, you should be able to breathe in that delicious, memorable peachy scent. When you take your peaches home, if you are going to use them right away, put them in the fridge. A not-quite-ripe peach might last on the counter for two to three days, but should be refrigerated to enjoy at its best. If you pick a peach that isn’t quite ripe, put it on the counter at room temperature for a couple of days, put it in a paper bag with the top rolled down, or if you must, use it for jams, jellies, canning and baking.
Pick Your Own Peaches
U Pick operations confirmed at press time. It’s very important to check these farms’ Facebook pages before planning your trip to confirm picking dates, times and prices.
Baugher Farm 1015 Baugher Road, Westminster, MD 21158 Hotline for daily picking updates: 410-857-0111. Alternate Phone: 410-848-5541. www.baughers.com Weekends, 9am-5pm. Directions: about three miles west of Westminster, Maryland on Route 140.
Larriland Farm 2415 Woodbine Road (Route 94), Lisbon, MD 21797 Phone: Hotline for picking updates: 301-854-6110 or 410-442-2605. www.pickyourown.com
Homestead Farm 15604 Sugarland Road, Poolesville, MD 20837 Phone: 301-977-3761.
First Fruits Berry Farm and Orchard 8416 Harmony Road, Denton, MD 21629, Denton, MD 21629 Phone: 410-310-3906 Daily updates are posted on Facebook: www.facebook.com/firstfruitsorchard
Lockbriar Farms 10051 Worton Road, Chestertown, MD 21620 Phone: 410-778-9112
Godfrey’s Farm 302 Leager Road, Sudlersville, MD 21668 Phone: 410-438-3509 www.godfreysfarm.com
Kent Fort Farm 135 Eastern Lane, Stevensville, MD 21666 Phone: 410 643-1650 www.facebook.com/kentfortfarm
White Marsh Acres 515 White Marsh Rd, Centreville, MD 21617 Phone: (410) 739-8649. Alternate Phone: (410) 490-6137
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