Peaches are one of the greatest signs of summer in the Pacific Northwest. These sweet, juicy fruits appear in the middle of the season and last until early fall, providing summer revelers in Washington with a delicious treat to add to picnics and BBQs. Peach trees grow well in the Pacific Northwest because of our relatively mild climate. Our winters are cold enough to satisfy the chilling requirement of peach trees, which need a certain amount of hours at cold temperatures in order to fruit, but not so harsh that the flower buds die.
Peaches are native to the northwestern part of China, where human cultivation is thought to have begun around 1000 BCE. The fruit was favored by Chinese nobles, and was ascribed certain magical powers in Chinese mythology. By 200 BCE, Chinese horticulturists knew how to differentiate between different winter cultivars of the peach tree, allowing commercial production to increase. At this time, peaches were also imported to the Mediterranean region, including Persia (from which the peach gained its Latin name, Prunus persica). From there, peaches made to Europe, where the French word peche became the English word “peach”. Since that time, peaches have been a popular (though historically expensive) treat in Europe and America, where Thomas Jefferson grew peaches at Monticello.
China is still the world’s leading producer of peach crops, producing an estimated 11 million tons in 2010- 50% of the entire world’s production! In contrast, the United States produces only about 6% of the world’s peach harvest. Oddly enough, China exports fewer peaches than the United States because most of its peaches are consumed domestically.
Did you know that peaches and nectarines are the same species? The only difference between them is that they come from different cultivars of peach tree (like the difference between a cherry tomato and a grape tomato).
For a fun and tasty summer dessert, check out this week’s recipe by Kayla Waldorf for Pacific Coast Harvest- roasted peaches with toasted almonds and vanilla ice cream!