Commentary: Notes from the peach farm
Gayle Okumura Sullivan
Aug 9, 2018
We are in August, the heart of summer, when temperatures rise and peaches reach their peak of season.
We’ve owned Dry Creek Peach for 18 years now. I think back to our first summer in 2001, our biggest harvest on record, when the volume of fruit picked every day was astounding. Every evening I would get a count of the daily harvest and I would get to work moving it. Shelf life is short for stone fruit, so I needed to know within 24 hours where each and every peach was going.
And then there was the truly ugly fruit; what to do with that? After the peaches had been distributed and Patrick, aged 2 at the time, had been put down for the night, I would get to work in the kitchen testing recipes.
I tried every peach pie and crust recipe I could get my hands on, then I moved to jam, chutney, cake, pickling, galettes, drying, cobblers, crisps, margaritas, salsa, lemonade, etc. It was an intense year.
This 2018 harvest is different than 2001. It’s a very light harvest. Some years are bountiful, and others not so much. Why? With peaches, we have one critical time of year, which is bloom. It can make or break a season.
Bloom is stunning, because the orchard is full of pink flowers on every branch of every tree — it feels unreal, almost like a movie set, and life and beauty abound. Each flower is a peach to be.
But, if the weather turns during bloom and it rains, hails, and/or freezing temperatures set in — then the fruit does not set. If fruit doesn’t set, there is not much of a crop, which is where we are now. Only once in our 18 years have we experienced a harvest like this, and it was 2006, when it felt like it rained for 40 days and nights during spring.
We have some fruit this season, but it is limited. So, we open the farm stand on Wednesdays at noon. At the farm stand we sell our fruit and the produce that we grow on the farm (all organically). We also sell some of those products that were tested in the kitchen the first year — our peach jam, Bellini mix, cobbler mix and our peach wood that we use for barbequing.
We reopened the farm stand the first year we bought the farm, and we love it. If you visit the stand, it is in the center of our property, and you practically drive into the orchard. The farm stand is adjacent to our row of Arctic Gem peaches. When they are in season, their peach scent wafts into the stand with the breeze.
Our Dry Creek Peach season runs from Memorial Day, when we open with Rich May peaches, and ends around Labor Day with our Last Chance peach. We are also at the Healdsburg Farmers’ Market on Saturdays.
Gayle Okumura Sullivan and her husband, Brian Sullivan, are the owners of Dry Creek Peach & Produce in the Dry Creek Valley.