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Peach procrastinators, time to put up or shut up

A warning to peach fans: You'd better stock up now. Pearson Farm, by far the largest supplier of local peaches to Atlanta farmers markets, is winding down for the season. Its last peaches destined for Atlanta-area farmers markets are on their way.

John Short, the market-distribution coordinator for the Fort Valley farm, is expecting to get at least one more delivery, on Friday. He’s not sure yet whether there will be enough to supply all of the farm’s regular Saturday markets.

So if you’ve been planning on baking a pie or two, or canning a few quarts, or making some preserves, it’s time to put up or shut up.
 
“People are already getting out there and buying boxes,” Short said on Monday. “We completely sold out this weekend.”

If it seems to you that the end has come earlier this year than last year, it's because it has. Usually the Georgia peach season stretches well into August, but the warm winter caused some varieties to mature early and others not to blossom at all, said farmer Al Pearson. Varieties selected to mature one after another in peachy succession ripened in overlapping bursts, forcing the Pearson family to hustle to find buyers for them all. Mission accomplished . . . but now just a few peaches remain for local consumers.

Whether you buy a 3 ½-pound bag or a 25-pound box this week, you’re in for a special treat. Since the farm wrapped up its commercial packing operation for the season last week—I was there as the last fruits rolled down the packing line—the peaches destined for metro farmers markets are about as uncommercial as you can get.

“They’re field packed. That means they go from the tree to the box,” Short said. “They’re going to be fuzzy and unrinsed.”

Better yet, most of them are going to be Elbertas. Named in 1875 by Macon County grower Samuel Rumph after his wife, Clara Elberta, it became the world’s first modern commercial variety and a true Georgia peach. Mostly yellow with a slight blush and a firm texture, the slight astringence of this freestone variety means it holds up well to sugar, making it especially good for baking and canning—though it’s good for eating out of hand, too.

Midweek markets are likely to see Augustprince peaches, which are firm and flavorful.

Pearson peaches sell for $5 a bag or $35 a box. “Scratch and dents” sell for less when available, but you’ll have to negotiate your own price for a box.

If you’re willing to roll the dice, there might still be another day of peaches the following Saturday, July 28, but probably only at select markets. You can keep up with availbility at Pearson Farm's Facebook page.

Though Short’s team of vendors will continue to sell Pearson pecans at markets into the fall and winter, the end of peach season is a sad time, he said.

“We have a great time doing it, and then it’s all over and it’s like, ‘Oh well, back to the real world. No more peaches.’”

Image: Farmer Al Pearson shows off some of his Elberta peaches, nearly ripe on the trees last week.