Peaches are in season around Wayne County. Sweet, juicy peaches in North Carolina are a symbol of summertime. North Carolina’s peach industry is unique in that it sells 90% of its crop on the fresh market, direct to the consumer just days from being picked ripe off the tree.
Cultivation of peaches began in China as early as 200 B.C. By the mid-1700s, peaches were so plentiful in the United States that botanists thought of them as a native fruit. In 2014, North Carolina produced 4,380 tons of peaches on 1,100 acres in North Carolina totaling $6.2 million in value to the state’s economy.
North Carolina peaches are typically available from around the end of May through August. The North Carolina Sandhills area was the heart of peach production in the Southeast until expanded acreage of orchards in Georgia and South Carolina led to overlapping harvest times with North Carolina growers which undercut the lock Sandhill growers had on markets.
California is the largest producer of peaches, with 713,000 tons produced in 2012. South Carolina comes in second with 95,000 tons and Georgia with 36,000 tons. Georgia is nicknamed “The Peach State” and is home to the “World’s Largest Peach Cobbler.” The cobbler is made every year and measures 11-feet by 5-feet.
You can buy two main varieties of peaches: clingstone and freestone. It is harder to remove the flesh from the pit on a clingstone peach. Peaches get sweeter and juicier as they ripen. Peaches should have vibrant colors and be fragrant when they are ripe. A peach that starts to give when gently pressed where the stem was is ripe and ready to eat. Firm peaches will be crunchy and not fully ripened. Store peaches at room temperature with the stem side down, preferably in a single layer to avoid bruising.
Be sure to include fresh, local peaches with your summertime meals and celebrate peach season by purchasing fresh, local peaches. Several vendors at the Farm Credit Farmers Market now have peaches for sell. The market is open on Thursdays and Fridays from 10 a.m. to 5:30 p.m. and Saturdays from 9 a.m. to 2 p.m. The market is located behind The Maxwell Center at 3114 Wayne Memorial Drive, Goldsboro.
Jessica Strickland is an agriculture extension agent, specializing in horticulture for North Carolina Cooperative Extension in Wayne County.