Gayle

Gayle Okumura Sullivan

Peach season has begun. Our 20th season. Hard to believe. When we bought the farm, Patrick was a baby and now he’s 21. Eusebio, our invaluable farm manager, has been with us from the start, and we are forever grateful. Brian and I, well, we both have a few more grey hairs or maybe less hair in one case, but we love it as much as that first market 20 years ago, when manager Renne Kiff graciously welcomed us to Healdsburg. She saved our place, introduced us and made us feel right at home. Janet Ciel is doing a great job now.

The rhythm of the market has changed with COVID-19.  We’re masked, gloved and distanced. Long lines form sometimes, and it can be hard to tell who is who. But it is still great to be outside, to see regular customers, to be part of a community that cares so much about agriculture and to know thoughtful farming is continuing on despite everything else going on in the world and our nation.

We love the seasonality of the farm, the community and growing tasty peaches for all of you. And when we reflect on the 20 years, the great majority of the seasons have been good. We’ve had a few non-seasons due to late spring rain or frost during bloom, but other than that, it has been positive.

Not to say every year doesn’t present challenges, because it does and they vary. Our first year the farm produced more fruit than ever in its history. A good challenge, but we had to figure out quickly how to distribute and work with tons and tons of extra fruit.  We’ve had frosts during bloom, then the year we had 40 straight days of spring rain when Healdsburg flooded and made news around the world, and you remember the commercial bees that found our fruit. That was tough. Bees are back again this year, wild this time, and boars too. But all things considered, we are so happy to be here, producing in one of the most beautiful places in the world.

There is beauty to the rhythm of the farm. We are just beginning our harvest. We’re still very early on, and we’ll roll through all 30 peach varieties we grow by Labor Day weekend. Timing may vary by a week or so, but we know we will typically harvest a variety for about two weeks, and then we’re on to the next. So if you have a favorite, don’t delay, because it comes and goes quickly. Our varieties last because we do about five rounds of picking with each tree, fruit does not ripen uniformly.  We hope you taste it. We pick firm ripe, or as ripe as is possible, because peaches don’t ripen off the tree. They will certainly soften, but the flavor and sugars are set. 

I am not sure about you, but I think some of this early fruit has been delicious. I almost couldn’t believe we were in June; it tasted like some of our late harvest varieties. Rich Mays, Zee Diamonds, Spring Snows, and now that we’re through most of our early semi-freestone peaches, where the fruit clings to the pit, we’ll be moving into our more regular freestone season and typically into greater volume picking as well. 

With the early fruit, I mostly eat it, plain and simple. There is nothing quite like biting into that first ripe peach of the year. Sometimes I slice it into a salad, which I always love, or I dice it and combine it with my granola and yogurt in the morning. When we move into the freestone season, that’s when the work gets more serious. We start making jam, canning, baking, freezing, dehydrating, you name it.

Right now, we’re making small batches of Bellini mix with our white Spring Snows. We wanted to have a 20th celebration here at the farm, but it doesn’t feel like the year for large gatherings. So for now, cheers!

Next month: Summer baking

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