Despite their botanical name, Prunus persica, historians believe peaches originated in China before becoming widely cultivated in ancient Persia. The drupe, or stone fruit, has long been revered by the Chinese as having magical and spiritual properties. Its early blossoms are said to symbolize vitality, good health, and longevity. Called “Persian apples” by the Romans, peaches were taken to the New World, then eventually spread to every continent in the world except Antarctica.
A species in the rose family, peaches have corrugated seed shells placing the fruit in the same subgenus as almonds. Although Georgia is known as the “Peach State” and has produced statistically significant harvests since the late 1500s, California tops the nation in production, followed by South Carolina, then Georgia, and New Jersey.
References: Agricultural Marketing Resource Center, Oregon State University, SFGate/San Francisco Chronicle, University of Georgia, USDA.
TYPES, VARIETIES & CUTS
Velvety skin differentiates peaches from nectarines, which are the same species, but bear a recessive gene that inhibits the tiny ‘peach fuzz’ of its biological sibling.
Clingstone or Freestone
There are hundreds of peach cultivars growing in the United States, and over 2,000 worldwide. Fruit is classified as either clingstone, freestone, or semi-freestone according to how easily the pit or seed separates from the flesh.
Fruit with a ‘clinging stone’ is generally an early variety, while freestones mature later in the season. Freestones tend to be more popular in the fresh market. Semi-freestone peaches, as the name suggests, are a hybrid of clingstone and freestone with the top attributes of both: very juicy, with good sugar content, and flesh that will separate from the pit.
There can also be melting and nonmelting flesh types, referring to how quickly flesh softens and fibers pull away from the stone when ripe. Melting flesh peaches can be either clingstone or freestone, and are favored for the fresh market; nonmelting types are better for processing or canning.
Flesh Color & Varieties
The next delineation follows flesh color: yellow (most common in the United States for both clingstone and freestone varieties, usually with a higher acid content), white (growing in popularity, originally cultivated in Asia, and sweeter), and the rare red (lesser known or available).
Clingstone peaches are juicy, soft, sweet, and often used for processing; varieties include Halford, Indian Blood, Independence, Red Beauty, Santa Rosa, and Sims.
Freestone peaches have a firmer texture, are often larger in size, less juicy, have lower sugar content, and stand up well to heat, making them popular with bakers. Varieties include August Pride, Bonita, Cardinal, Cresthaven, Early Amber, Elberta, Frost, Golden Jubilee, Halloween, O’Henry, Redhaven, Rio Grande, Santa Barbara, Tropi-berta, and Veteran. Semi-freestone varieties include Babcock, Dixi Red, Floridaprince, and Springtime.
White flesh varieties are mostly freestone and include Belle of Georgia, Melba, Nectar, Snow Beauty, Strawberry (Cling or Free), Sugar Giant, and White Lady. Artic Supreme is a clingstone white variety, while Babcock is semi-freestone.
Donut or doughnut peaches are a type of white-flesh fruit with a distinctive flat shape and are preferred for their sweetness, lower acidity, and delicacy. Dwarf cultivars, which will bear fruit in less time than traditional peach trees, include Bonanza II, El Dorado, Empress, Galaxy, Golden Gem, Pix Zee, Saturn, and Southern Sweet.
References: Agricultural Marketing Resource Center, PennState Extension, SFGate/San Francisco Chronicle, University of Georgia, USDA.
PESTS & DISEASE
Although its fuzzy exterior is said to protect peaches, a number of pests are attracted to the succulent fruit including squash bugs and stink bugs, which bite into developing drupes, leaving tiny marks on immature fruit that can turn into wrinkles as the skin matures. Most of these imperfections are harmless, and occur frequently in organics due to restrictions on pesticide use.
Other pests of concern include aphids, beetles, borers (including the aptly named peach tree borer), caterpillars, cutworms, leaf hoppers, leafrollers, moths, nematodes, scale, and spider mites.
Peaches are susceptible many viruses and diseases including bacterial canker, brown rot, coryneum blight, crown gall, grey mold, leaf curl, mosaic, powdery mildew, root rot, rust, scab, sunburn, and wood decay.
References: PennState Extension, University of California Agriculture & Natural Resources, University of Georgia, USDA.