My dear friend, Larry, just wrote a post this morning on the History of PEACHES in the Americas. That reminded me that I haven't told you about my quest for the peach that I grew up eating. I think there's likely a metaphor in there somewhere about how you can take something for granted when it's easy and readily available, or something from your youth. It's only when you gain a few miles under your belt that you come to appreciate what is now lost. So it is with my childhood peach. I have no idea what variety it is, nor what others may call it. We always called it THE ROMAN VALLEY PEACH. It has the most intense peachy-raspberry flavor, and it bleeds RED! And I miss it.
As far as we know, ALL PEACHES originated in China. The succulent fruit was carried along the ancient trade routes and ended up in Persia, then Europe, and finally in the Americas. Along the way, various genetics became more or less emphasized, so now we have some fuzzy peaches and some smooth-skinned (nectarines), some yellow peaches, some white, and even a few rare RED fleshed peaches! Some peaches bear their fruit early in the summer, and some don't ripen until the Autumn. It's believed that the Spaniards brought peach seeds to the New World, into Mexico and possibly even into Florida, in order to provide food for future explorations. Lacking native pests, peach trees flourished in the "New World". Their seeds were traded and tended here, just as they were in the "old". The native inhabitants of the Americas loved the fruit so much that they planted huge orchards wherever they could. When European Colonizers arrived, they thought that the fruit was a native and not a naturalized fruit! They were simply astonished at the proliferance of a fruit that was only available to the wealthy in Europe at the time!
So, to get back to my family's favorite little red-juiced peach, it came to us through my Uncle Howard Roman from his farm in Texas' Rio Grande Valley...hence our name for it...the Roman Valley Peach. I have no idea where he got it, nor does my Aunt, his widow. But when I was little, he brought seeds and seedlings up to Houston and my Mother faithfully planted and tended them until she sold the family home a few years ago, after my Dad passed. We had no idea that we'd lost our favorite peach tree at the same time.
The peach itself was free-stone and grew true from seed. It seemed to be super healthy, as I seldom if ever saw pests, sickness or curly leaf, though my Mother, a committed organic gardener, refused to use chemical sprays or fertilizers.The tree never seemed to have a problem with her heavy clay soil, either. The fruit was small, about the size of two golf balls (though we never thinned them), with pale yellowish flesh and pink cheeks where the sun had shone on it. There was a strong red coloring right around the pit, and RED juice that turned Mom's cobblers, jams and peach shortcakes a gorgeous shade of cherry red! I can remember that the tree would grow tall enough (maybe 12-15') that my siblings and I would climb up through the branches and onto the roof of our house, and snack on those luscious peaches to our hearts' content! The fruit had a uniquely peachy-with-something-else scent and a taste that I suppose could be described as peachy-raspberry. To me, it was just the best peach in the whole wide world and tasted like the end of school and the beginning of summer!
When I grew up and started planting my own trees, I was actually surprised to learn that "normal" peach trees were susceptible to so many different pests and diseases and all but required sandy soil for good drainage! And so began my QUEST to find the Peach of my childhood! I wrote to extension agents throughout The Valley, but to no avail, so I turned to the Internet for help.
- The first reddish-fleshed peach that I came across was the IOWA-INDIAN WHITE FREESTONE PEACH, grown by Ericka Dana of Catnip Farm in, obviously, Iowa. I spoke to her directly, told her my story, and she shared her's. Her mother loved and grew their peaches, which also grow true from seed and have been passed down through Ericka's family. She's on a mission to spread this peach across the country in what she considers to be her Legacy Project. As her peaches look very similar to my memory of the Roman Valley Peaches, I suspect that they might be closely related, except that her trees appear to BLOOM in May/June instead of fruit in May/June as I remembered our peaches doing. However, her peach might possibly adjust when grown in a warmer climate like we have. We'll see! I have one growing here at the farm now to test it and see.
- Next, I found the commercially available and much larger-fruited INDIAN BLOOD PEACHES that are typically grafted and sold through various commercial nurseries, aka the INDIAN BLOOD FREE (stone) and the INDIAN BLOOD CLING (stone) peaches. They, too, have just some red staining around the pit. I now have one of each growing on our farm, too, and we'll see what they produce.
- I was very excited when I learned about the famous, so-called BLACK BOY PEACH of New Zealand! While the name is decidedly NOT Politically Correct and will hereafter be referred to as the BB Peach, it is apparently a fantastic tree with delicious fruit, and until quite recently, it's only been available in New Zealand and Australia! This is most certainly NOT the same peach as I grew up with, but it IS a very cool red-fleshed peach. In fact, the flesh of this peach is almost entirely purple/black and the skin is covered in gray/black fuzz. This peach also apparently breeds true from seed and is notably resistant to peach leaf curl and other peach diseases and pests. It may or may not be the same as the French Peche de Vigne (Vineyard Peach), which is reported to be "the best tasting peach in the world" and to have been grown among French Vineyards as a sort of "canary in the coal mine" to detect fungal diseases that both plants share in common, in order to give the grower early warning of an infection. However, the BB Peach is apparently so very disease resistant that I'd think the grapes would get sick and die well before the peaches would show any problems! Lol.
Just fyi....the BB Peaches, coming from New Zealand, are NOT commonly available at all here in the States! I nearly fell over in shock when Raintree Nursery suddenly listed a very limited number of them for sale in their catalog! I immediately ordered one. This precious tree is now in a pot in my garden. I can't wait for it to fruit!
- Finally, I realized that the only hope for finding "my family peach" before it was too late was to make the 12-hour car trip down to see my elderly Aunt Della in deepest South Texas. We had a lovely visit, and at some point the conversation came around to my Uncle's peach trees. She sent me out to her back yard to see at least a dozen peach trees in full fruit everywhere! I hadn't thought about it before hand, but it WAS the end of May! There in the compost pile were dozens of baby trees coming up like weeds! There were bushels of peaches in the trees and all over the yard, just going to waste as she couldn't use them up all by herself. The powerful and heavenly aroma was perfect, just as I remembered it! That oh-so-familiar, amazingly-intense peachy-plus-something-extra fragrance took me right back to my childhood! My Aunt laughed and told me to take all that I wanted! I wondered aloud if I could get a dump truck load? Lol. When asked, my Aunt said she had no idea where my Uncle had gotten HIS start of these peaches, but that they'd just always had them, though she admitted that she didn't know anyone else in the area that did.
I now have 4 knee high ROMAN VALLEY PEACH TREES growing in pots in my garden, plus one each of the other 4 Red Fleshed Peaches that I discovered in my Quest None of them has bloomed yet, but they are still very young. I pray that the Roman Valley Peach, as well as it's cousins, the Iowa-Indian White Freestone, the Indian Blood Cling and Freestone, and the BB peaches thrive under my care and in our growing conditions. I can't wait to find out how they TASTE and be able to compare them to each other! I feel satisfied that I've succeeded in my quest to regain our family peach, and to be able to add that whole tribe of Red Fleshed Peaches to our orchard. Like the Chinese, Persians, Europeans, Spaniards, and Native American peach lovers before me, I feel like I'm preserving a LEGACY of fruit that links me not only to all those who have enjoyed and traded these peaches before me, but also to those who will come after. I hope that my family, at least, will never lose these delicious PEACHES again!