One would never suspect that a morning of picking peaches at Masumoto Family Farm would be where sweat, spirituality, and sensuality culminate in a cloud of fine dust for a mind-blowing experience that leaves you begging for more… take me Elberta, I can’t live another year without LeGrand. We’re not talking’ the big “O” here – this is a food blog! We’re talking peaches and nectarines – heirloom organic peaches and nectarines. The queen of all peaches, Elberta, and mistress of nectarines, LeGrand. As David Mas Masumoto describes these priceless heirlooms: Elberta peaches have a deep, rich flavor that you take home to meet your parents and LeGrand nectarines have a wild sexy taste that tempts you into an affair. Both are crazy juicy golden beauties with a crimson blush and unforgettable flavor.
Elberta peaches are buttery and smooth with a bright yellow flesh and golden skin when ripe – a wonderful old heirloom peach whose name stirs memories of backyard family trees and peaches you enjoyed as a child on blistering summer days. LeGrand nectarines have been called the “granddaddy of nectarines” – their luscious flavor combines a perfect balance of high acidity and high sugar. Both have people: consumers, local and visiting families, chefs, and food enthusiast, flocking to Del Rey in the San Joaquin Valley of central California in the heat of July to experience the great Mas Masumoto Adopt-a-Tree peach harvest.
Who knew that a Saturday spent in an orchard in California’s Central Valley would move me to quietly reflect upon long-forgotten childhood memories of summer days spent toiling in our family’s garden?
While I mulled over the impact the weekend had on me and what I had learned about heirloom peaches and their cultivation, I knew after reading just one chapter of Masumoto’s memoir, Epitaph for a Peach, that the story of his struggle to save his beloved Sun Crest peaches, an heirloom peach known for its sweet juiciness, but rejected by the mass market due to its color and short shelf life, deserved an heirloom recipe.
Memories of summer days spent in sticky humidity under the blazing sun, grumbling under our breath so the old man wouldn’t hear, as we did our required two hours of tortured servitude. Our garden was not some glorified hobby – we were poor and it is what fed our family; along with the goats, chickens, and hogs that we raised and woke up at 6:00 a.m. to feed and milk every day before school, and the side of beef that we bought from the local slaughterhouse each year and stored in the giant deep freezer at my grandmother’s house down the hill.
After hearing Mas recite his lyrical poem entitled “Sweat” to the folks gathered before him on that fine, blessedly cloudy and breezy Saturday morning, excited about the second harvest of peaches and nectarines from their adopted trees; I can understand and appreciate my experience from a whole new perspective.
A third generation farmer and author of four books, David Mas Masumoto grows peaches, nectarines, grapes, and raisins on his 80-acre organic farm with his wife Marcy, daughter Nikiko, and son Korio. Mas writes because he feels their story and the emotion and physical nature of farming is best told through story and art. He and his family approach their work as artisans do, and they are constantly seeking new and creative ways of sharing their stories and knowledge of the land. The Masumotos have created an annual ritual of linking people to their farm through a Peach Adoption Program a novel approach to “consumer education” that “dissolves the boundaries between farmer, eater, the land, and community”. If you would like a taste of these juicy treasures, you can adopt either an Elberta or LeGrand and if you’re hungry enough (or have hungry friends) you can adopt both. If the weather and nature cooperates, each tree should have between 350-450 pounds of these peach and/or nectarine gems!
If our father had been a farmer, a writer,and a poet as Masumoto is, maybe my sisters and brothers and I would have seen our farm experience in a rosier light, but somehow I doubt that it would have made a difference. My dad was a high school teacher, proud of being a strict disciplinarian – at home and at work, and although he is a writer (with more of a journalistic bent), he didn’t have a lyrical bone in his body in those days and wasn’t big on sharing his innermost feelings. I know now that he had a passion for the land even then as he still farms to this day, on a much smaller scale of course, waking with dawn’s early light to tend his organic lettuces, tomatoes, onions, potatoes, and peppers.
Many thanks to Melissa’s Produce for inviting me, Nancy (A Communal Table), Louise (Geez Louise!), Dorothy (Shockingly Delicious) and Gisele (Small Pleasures Catering) on an inspiring journey into the fields of Masumoto Family Farms and two other growers (coming soon, along with more peach, nectarine, and plum recipes!) You can order fresh, organic Masumoto Farms peaches from Melissa’s through the end of August, shipped directly to you!
Now about that heirloom recipe:
Heirloom Peach Cobbler
True peach lovers will delight in the simple peach filling which highlights the sweet, ripe fruit. Topped with a wholesome, crunchy crumble of nuts and brown sugar, enjoy this homestyle cobbler for breakfast, an afternoon snack, or dessert.
For the filling:
4 cups peaches, preferably Elberta, pitted and quartered (about 4-6 medium sized peaches)
2/3 cup brown sugar
1 tablespoon fresh lemon juice
1/4 teaspoon ground nutmeg
Combine the peaches, brown sugar, and lemon juice in a bowl and toss. Allow to sit for 10 minutes.
For the topping:
2/3 cup all-purpose flour
1/2 cup packed light brown sugar
1/2 teaspoon ground cinnamon
5 tablespoons unsalted butter, cut in small pieces and chilled
1/2 cup coarsely chopped walnuts, pecans, or almonds*
*I used a mix of sliced almonds and chopped pecans
Combine all the ingredients in a small bowl. Using a pastry blender or two forks, cut in the butter until the crumble begins to clump. Stir in the nuts.
Preheat oven to 375 degrees F.
Place six 3″ ramekins on a cookie sheet. Spoon peach mixture into the ramekins and top with crumble mixture. Bake for about 30 minutes until the filling is bubbling and the crumble topping is golden brown.
Yields: 6 servings
Serve warm or cold, with whipped cream or vanilla ice cream or as is.
Inspired by two recipes from Molly O’Neill’s cookbook One Big Table, a rich and varied collection of 600 recipes that define the soul of American cuisine.
Moving first to Hermosa Beach, then residing in the bedroom communities of greater Los Angeles for the past, mmm, two decades +/-, and now rejoicing at our return to kickin’ it at the beach, those days “back on the farm” seem like someone else’s life. I chose the title Eat a Peach because, much like the defining Southern Rock songs of The Allman Brothers Band “Eat A Peach” album are forever imprinted in my mind (gems like “Blue Sky,” “Ain’t Wasting Time No More,” the ballad “Melissa” – who’s with me here?!) – this day will live on in my heart and soul.
Disclosure: Transportation, lodging and meals for this trip were paid for by Melissa’s Produce. Opinions expressed here are entirely my own.