Sometimes when you’re think you’re just looking for a beautiful, ripe peach that gushes sweet juice with every bite, you get more than you bargained for. In my case, I got an entire, amazing family of peach farmers/writers/performance artists.
I’m talking about the Masumotos, who live and farm near Fresno, in California’s Central Valley. Every since Mas Masumoto stubbornly refused to rip out an orchard of commercially cursed Sun Crest peach trees, then wrote about it in Epitaph for a Peach, the Masumotos have been doing peaches different.
This past weekend was no exception. They held a birthday party for their Sun Crest peach trees, which turned 40 this year. But believe me, these trees aren’t having a mid-life crisis. Their fruit is as luscious and succulent as ever – despite the fact that they are well past the age when a farmer would normally rip out a peach tree (they usually get the heave-ho in their teens).
Back when Mas was desperately trying to find a buyer for his Sun Crest peaches, he gained a fan in Alice Waters, owner of Chez Panisse restaurant. Then more and more chefs signed on to take the Sun Crests, which commercial brokers rejected because they didn’t survive cold storage very well.
Fast-forward to 2008, and these peaches have a serious fan club. At their birthday celebration, chefs from Chez Panisse (past and present), Rubicon, Picante, Ici, Montclair Baking and Flea Street Café gathered to fete the Sun Crests – by cooking them. Grilled pancetta and basil wrapped peaches; pickled peaches with salumi; Beaume-de-Venise wine jelly with peaches and amaretto cream; peach tartlets; peach melba…Peach heaven.
Mas and daughter Nikiko did readings (Nikiko even accompanied Mas with a dramatic taiko drum performance as he described a devastating hail storm in the orchard). Marcy described the honoree peach trees at various stages during their lives (she has decided they are perpetually 39, like women of a certain age). And their son Korio showed the assembled crowd photos of the Sun Crest trees throughout the seasons.
Can learning a peach tree’s life story make the fruit more juicy? Can knowing the family who nurtured, pruned and plucked your peach from the tree render it sweeter?
Yes. (Slurp!) Oh, yes.