The month of May is all about local cherries, but as they start to slow down in the middle of June, crops like peaches, nectarines, apricots, plums, and pluots start to taste really good. Bi-Rite’s selection of stone fruit during the summertime is a showcase of the many different local varieties and the world-class farmers who grow them. There’s truly nothing better than sinking your teeth into a peach that was picked at the perfect ripeness so that sugars have developed into the sweet juicy goodness that makes us nostalgic for summers from childhood.
This spring the Bi-Rite Produce and Marketing teams took a field trip into the heart of Central Valley to visit a few of our favorite organic farms, and learn more about what it takes to grow amazing organic fruit!
Located just over 200 miles south of San Francisco in the heart of California’s conventional, industrial agriculture there are three family farms doing their best to keep organic stone fruit alive. Masumoto Family Farm in Del Rey, CA is a beautiful, 80-acre orchard of land purchased by the Masumoto family in 1948. A third-generation farmer and celebrated author, Mas Masumoto has mastered the art of building soil to support the growth of his trees. The Masumoto family is in love with the tang of the yellow flesh fruit and seeks a sugar and acid balance that screams WOW! They’re just about to start harvesting the Flavorcrest Peach, a popular variety for conventional growers who like a firm piece of fruit that can ship. Next up is everyone’s favorite, the freestone Sun Crest Yellow Peach, a large peach with a red blushed skin and juicy texture – this is the peach that put the Masumoto Family Farm on the map. The last variety of stone fruit we will see from the Masumoto is the clingstone Le Grand Yellow Nectarine. The Le Grand is a large piece of fruit with a rich sweet flavor and firm flesh which makes it awesome for making nectarine ice cream.
Peaches and nectarines are categorized in two ways, freestone and clingstone. When the flesh of the fruit is attached to the pit you have a clingstone variety. They can be the best to eat but are harder to work with in the kitchen. The meat (flesh) freestone varieties are completely detached from the pit which makes them easier to work with for canning, freezing, and cooking.
Stella Balakian moved to Reedley from Boston almost 50 years ago, and she is the heart and soul of the fourth generation Balakian Farms. For the past 15 years the Balakian family has been driving 3 ½ hours one-way to deliver fresh-picked stone fruit to the doors of Bi-Rite Market. The Balakian’s farm sits on just over 40 acres. They have diversified to grow one of the best pomegranates, which we celebrate in the Markets every fall. As far as stone fruit goes, Balakian focuses largely on early season stone fruit , but keep an eye out for the Flavor Grenade Pluot.
One of the biggest challenges facing these organic stone fruit grower in Central Valley is the limited local market for them to sell their premium organic fruit. These farms rely heavily on the markets in the Bay Area to bring them the financial return needed to survive as a small farm and pay their workers a living wage. Most of the farms that grow us all these amazing fruits and veggies that we see at Bi-Rite are in low-income communities that can’t afford the prices for specialty organic fruits and vegetables.
Blossom Bluff Orchards is located on a “bluff” overlooking the King River in Reedley, CA, and it’s one of the most stunning landscapes in the area. As we walked the orchard it was so good to see all the wildlife taking advantage of the diversity on the farm. The Loewen family farms on about 80 acres and grow a wide variety of stone fruit, citrus, and persimmons. Bryce and his father, Ted, operate the farm together and they have so many different fruit varieties that Ted has to keep a little black book just to remember the locations of the each varietal. Two of the crops the Loewen’s have mastered is plums and pluots, which are just getting underway. We are finishing up the last of the unique Black Splendor Plum with its dark purple/red skin and meaty flesh, which will be followed shortly by the Yellow Dolly Plum with perfect, yellow skin and juicy flesh. Soon after the Dolly, the Catalina Plum will be harvested, with its dark amber skin – it is one of the sweetest plums of the season and just a taste of what you’ll see at Bi-Rite from Blossom Bluff Orchards this summer.
If biting into a sweet and juicy piece of stone fruit doesn’t get your taste buds fired up, we have a terrific recipe for Peach Cobbler from our Pastry Chef Keri, and of course Bi-Rite Creamery & Bakeshop is taking advantage of all of the amazing stone fruit to create all sorts of summer treats like Masumoto Peach Ice Cream and Peach Frangipane Galettes.