It’s the middle of winter — snow and ice cover the ground — and I am thinking about peaches. Could it be that the last jar of freestone peaches I canned late last summer is staring at me from the refrigerator? It seems no matter how many peaches I can, it is never enough.
So now I am thinking commercial peaches, remembering the peaches of my childhood, large freestone halves in syrup, looking a bit raggedy but loaded with flavor and a pink blush where the peach met the pit. I start scouting the local supermarkets and find cling peaches everywhere — either sliced or halves and made by only a few canning companies.
I discuss this with family members and friends. Soon I’m in shock. They don’t know what a stone fruit is, much less that there are two main kinds of peaches. I ask my most intelligent friends what are the two major peach categories and am met with blank stares and silence. What is this? They never heard of cling and freestone peaches and the many varieties therein. Has civilization and thousands of years of peach breeding failed us?
I explain that the first peaches at the Farmers Market are Cling, and they carry that name because they cling to their pits and make it difficult to divide them in halves or to slice them. But if we’re patient and wait a few weeks, the Freestones arrive, and we can easily release them from their pits to slice or halve them. We enjoy them out of hand, make peach pies and cobblers, concentrate them into peach preserves, but most importantly, can the halves to open the jar on a winter’s day, and just eat them out of the jar.
Soon the Oak Park Farmers Market will open again, and many of us will be awaiting our favorite fruit and vegetable varieties. We will glory in stone fruit: more than 15 kinds, including plums, apricots, cherries, nectarines, and peaches.
It is up to us to educate our family members and friends about fruits, understanding that botany has been dropped as a serious subject from most academic institutions. Our students know how to use many mechanical devices but they don’t know that the stone in the peach they are eating is the seed and could grow another peach tree. We should demand that our schools teach students about the foods they eat and the research that creates new fruits, such as the SweeTango apple, which is newly developed in Minnesota and quickly becoming everyone’s favorite.
Why is it important to know these things? If our planet is to survive, we need to be the guardians of our real foods, protecting them from ignorance and a lack of caring.
I’m ready for the 2019 Farmers Market, where I will relish the Red Havens and other peaches that await my canning. And this year I hope to can enough peaches so I won’t run out. Incidentally, I did discover that one company in California cans Freestone halves and slices, and I am looking for a local store that carries them. The peaches on the can look like the Freestones I can.
Maybe if we all ask our local stores for the canned Freestones, we will rekindle some interest in these delicious fruits. Thus far, store personnel have been unaware that there are two types of peaches or even that they get put in cans.
How about some food courses for supermarket employees?
Bobbie Raymond is a longtime resident of Oak Park.