Do you have a first memory of biting into a peach? The sticky sweet juice running down your chin, the slight fuzziness that prickled your chin! That luscious peachy orange flesh that practically melts in your mouth. The way your taste buds feel like they will explode from the rich sweet flavor.
Let’s take a peach’s journey from orchard to store and see just how that delicious peach got there and what makes northwestern peaches so special. A huge thank you goes out to Eric Patrick, aka @CherryDude, for arranging this tour with the Washington Stone Fruit Growers as our sponsor and for being our tour guide.
If you’ve ever picked peaches in an orchard you’ve probably noticed the fuzz on peaches – just like you may remember them from your younger years like I do. Secret: grocery store peaches are still covered with fuzz unless Big Bertha gets a hold of them.
We made it to the orchard just after the last peaches had been picked. We saw nectarines though, as this picture shows. They weren’t quite ready for picking but the process is the same so I thought I would share this picture for reference.
When we walked down the rows we noticed several interesting things –
- The trees were forked with a large gap in the middle. We learned they train the trees to grow this way because it allows sunlight to reach the fruit growing in the center so it ripens better.
- There were large white bins tipped on their sides down the long rows. These crates mean the orchard is nearing picking time. Once they are ready to pick the bins get flipped over and filled with the fruit.
After a visit to the orchard I was almost giddy with excitement as we drove to a packing shed where many workers were hard at work. I have some pictures and video that gives you a glance. Let’s head inside.
Forklifts busily zoom in and out, beeping a warning as they enter and exit the packing shed for safety purposes. They bring bin after bin full of peaches into the packing shed and stack them in front of a large machine. Each bin holds approximately 300 lb. of tree ripened peaches. (My image is a bit blurred but I didn’t want you to miss this bit of the process where the bins are set to get their start down the conveyor line prep for shipping.
You’ll note that even these tree ripened peaches are still a little hard. That’s because they will continue to ripen after they are off the tree. You’ll see the undertone of these peaches is no lighter than a pale yellow. That means you will get a peach at the grocery store that will still end up ripe. If you see that the peaches at the store are still a bit green it means they’ve been picked too early and the sugars may not develop to the point they need for a deliciously ripe peach.
But back to the packing shed. The stacks of bins are waiting their turn to be lifted up and dumped in Big or Little Bertha – Little Bertha in this case, Willy (the machine operator) tells us. Once there they bob into their bath for a quick rinse. This is the first bath our peaches get and from what I observed they lose their fuzz here.
By the way, I secretly hoped I could go up on the machines and get a close-up of how they work so when I was actually invited to climb up where Willy works and learn firsthand about how it all works, I was psyched. I’m not sure if I was able to keep the “kid in a candy store” grin off my face or not.
Once the peaches go through their bath they are gently sent on their way and shifted to a conveyer belt that takes them on their journey through a machine that analyzes their size/weight and routes each peach where it needs to go next. This machine can check for sizing, defects, etc. Once the peach is routed to the right line, workers look them over to make sure they are in perfect shape and have no leaves or stems attached.
After the workers check each peach they work in super speed packing the boxes to send off to the next step. We follow the boxes on their journey along the conveyor belt, trying to stay out of the way of busy workers who graciously deal with our intrusion.
Next the boxes come to a stop in the final room where yet more workers stack them in their respective stacks. Finally, forklifts beep their way in and out to haul the boxes to the trucks that will carry them to their final destinations – your grocery store.
By the time we leave we have a new appreciation for the work that goes into getting peaches from the orchard to our table and we wonder how our fruit can truly be as inexpensive as it is after all the expense that goes into growing, harvesting, packing, and delivering them.
Do you have a favorite peach recipe? Share it with us below! Peach season may be wrapped up but it’s never too early to start planning for next year!
My favorite: Peach Cobbler