Why Are Peaches Fuzzy?
No, not Fozzie! Fuzzy!
This question was posed to me via twitter by Sean, proprietor and brewmaster at Mellody Brewing Co., food maven, #tastingjawn master, stylish bow tie wearer, friend of the farm, and stalwart Phillies supporter:
@3springsfruit why are peaches fuzzy?— MellodyBrewing (@mellodybrewing) August 26, 2014
A great question, Sean, and a worthy blog entry in our "Ask a Grower" series.
Peaches, Prunus persica, were originally grown in China. Clemson claims these fruits washed up on the shores of the New World in 1571 with Spanish missionaries, first arriving in what's now St. Simon's Island, Georgia. So, they evolved in a climate and environment not very familiar to me.
However, by my observation here in the Eastern US, peach fuzz (or pubescence to all we Horticulture nerds) is a natural defense system for protecting the fruits from rainwater. The tiny hairs allow droplets of water to sit on top of them and not on the more vulnerable skin of the fruit. Now certainly, when rains are heavy, the peaches will get wet. But for light rains or heavy dews, it's conceivable peaches could be more susceptible to rots and bacteria than they already are without that pubescence.
Unless, they just adapted to express the recessive allele for pubescence and became nectarines. Nectarines are simply fuzz-less peaches. Though there are markedly different flavors between peaches and nectarines in many cases, scientifically, this is all that separates them. Why don't nectarines rot more than peaches? Well... hehe - sometimes they do. However, they've been naturally selected for smoother and smoother skin, allowing (in an ideal environment) to allow rain waters to slip-slide all down the fruits and onto the ground, feeding the roots.
Some suspect peach fuzz can deter browsing from insects and other animals. Well... as I said, I've never been to China. The super smart-alecky farmer notion in me would like to know why it hasn't stopped any stink bugs, Oriental Fruit Moths, Tarnished Plant Bugs, Western Flower Thrips, Tufted Apple Budmoth, Plum Curculio, crows, turkeys, or deer that we have here in our environment... just to name a few. I'm just glad it hasn't stopped you, the faithful 3Springs blog reader and peach devotee, from browsing on them at your home!
Wocka Wocka Wocka!
- "Ask a Grower" vol. VI - Grafting
- "Ask A Grower" vol. V - Proper Apple Storage
- "Ask A Grower" vol. IV - All About Cider
- "Ask A Grower" vol. III - Clingstone Peaches vs. Freestone Peaches
- "Ask A Grower" vol. II - Granny Smith Fables
- "Ask A Grower" vol I - Roots & Scions
Peaches are on everyone's mind as we delve into the first pickings of the season. Curiosity with these fuzzy summer treats yielded this question, via our Twitter account:
"Is there a way for me to determine if a peach is freestone or cling just by looking at it?" - asks Kelly "Miss Peach" G. of Washington DC (@kgdc1)
Great question from a true peach enthusiast! The short answer is no, there is no sound way other than to know the variety and know its tendency. Let's examine things a little closer.
The difference between clingstone peaches and freestone peaches is little more than what you would think. For clingstone peach varieties, the flesh of the peach will cling to the stone (or pit), making it more difficult to remove. Freestone peaches separate easily from the pit, making it easier to pull out once the fruit is sliced in half. Some peach varieties, as we'll discuss later, advertise themselves as "semi-cling". As much as I'd like to tell you, our valued customers and random web watchers, that "this peach is semi-cling, not clingstone", the truth of the matter is so very few semi-cling peaches ever separate from the pit that you might as well not even make the distinction.
At the time of this writing, at the start of the 2010 peach season, our earliest ripening peach, our 'Baby Juble' peaches are clingstone. We have several earlier varieties planted who will also be cling. 'Rising Star' and 'Sentry' are next, both reportedly "semi-clingstone" and you remember what that means. 'Red Star' you will get a few more freestone peaches than other "semi-clings" but our first true freestone peach is 'John Boy'. From that point forward, all of our peaches are freestone. 'White Lady' is our first freestone white peach. We grow a mid-season clingstone called "Baby Gold #5" to make our canned peaches. If you ever had a notion to can some for yourself (to deploy some good rural verbiage), you can special request some Baby Gold #5's from us!
So which is better? Well, everyone likes freestone better, mostly because they like to pull out the pit. Truthfully, there's nothing about a freestone peach that tastes better than a clingstone. If one peach tastes better than another, it's because the variety is good, not necessarily because it fell off the pit. 'Rising Star' and 'Baby Gold #5' are two of my favorite peaches for flavor and they are clings, but I understand the preference folks have for freestone.
So to wrap things up, no, you cannot tell a clingstone from a freestone merely by a peach's appearance. You'd need to "Ask a Grower" to learn about the peaches he or she brought to market! Thanks for the question, enjoy the peaches, and keep those questions coming!
Choosing the Right Peach At Market
We're often asked how to choose good peaches at our farmers markets, so I thought I'd whip up an easy beginner's guide. Just remember, if all else fails, ask one of the experts helping at our stand that day! Before we address the task head on, let's address a few rules up front. N.B. This guide also applies to choosing nectarines, plums, apricots, and stone fruit in general.
General Rule #1 - Out of respect for our family who grew the fruit, our skilled crew who harvested the fruit in the heat of summer without bruising it, and the customers who will shop after you, please be gentle! As you'll see, a delicate squeeze is important in choosing good peaches, but tree ripened peaches are to be handled with the same caution as eggs.
General Rule #2 - Plan ahead! As you'll see, knowing the quantity of peaches you'd like and not only "how" but "when" you'll use them will go a long way to insure you'll enjoy the fruit we've worked so hard to grow.
Alrighty, let's choose some peaches! First things first, do you prefer white or yellow peaches? This always a point of contention - the factions are often fiercely divided. White peaches are "sub acid", meaning they will lack some of that peachy "bite". It's often believed that white peaches are sweeter while science tells us otherwise - the lack of acid makes the sugars stand out while the amount of sugar is often identical for yellow and white peaches. Yellow peaches are your traditional peach flavor, the white peaches taste like those same yellow peaches dipped in the sugar bowl. White peaches have a red background color while yellow peaches have a yellow background and a red blush. They should be clearly marked on our display to tell the difference - try 'em both and you can decided which is best for you!
When choosing peaches, ask yourself "how many do I want" and "do I want them now or later (or both)"? All of our peaches are picked ripe. Firm fruit is not "green" fruit or unmatured. Peaches must be picked "firm ripe" just to survive the short trip from our orchard to your farmers market. Our goal is to provide some peaches that are "finger ripe" (a little soft) and "firm ripe" in every crate so you can pick three peaches to eat today and a few that will ripen on your counter during the week. Very gently, hold a peach between your thumb and middle finger and apply just a tiny bit of pressure. If you can feel the flesh move, it's "finger ripe", eat today or tomorrow. Flesh still firm? Don't squeeze it any longer, first of all. Second, remember that it is "firm ripe", not "green" and it will come to life after as few as 2 days on the counter. If you know how many peaches you and your friends and family can eat in a week, plan accordingly by choosing a few "finger ripe" peaches for today and tomorrow and as many "firm ripe" as you believe you can eat between then and the next market when more fresh peaches come to town. Making a pie/cobbler/pudding etc? If you've got a head full of steam and are making it as soon as you get back, find a few finger ripe peaches. Many, my mother included, actually prefer firmer fruit for such confections so plan accordingly. Also remember, we do price in bulk so ask about the price for half bushel, and seconds for that matter.
Keeping/Ripening Your Peaches
Peaches are best kept at room temperature but are also not harmed by refrigeration. To make your peaches last all week, eat the softest first, place firm ones in the bottom of the fridge, and rotate "a day's worth of peaches" from the fridge to the counter each day you eat peaches. This way, tomorrow's fruit will ripen as you eat today, and the rest will be waiting for you in the refrigerator. Though it varies with peach varieties and weather conditions, peaches commonly last one week or longer in a refrigerator.
Can't Wait Any Longer? Fruit ripens in the presence of a gas called ethylene, found naturally in the fruit. A cool trick to quickly ripen your "firm ripe" peaches should you find yourself in need is to cut a piece of a high ethylene fruit; an apple or banana, and place it in a plastic bag with the peaches you wish to ripen, tie the bag shut at the top and place on the counter or in the fridge (depending on how dire the peach emergency is - don't panic, just place bag on counter). It won't take long at all using this method.