The Garden State’s peach crop is the nation’s fourth largest, at over 60 million pounds, behind California, South Carolina and Georgia. Pretty impressive for this small state we’re in!
From mid-July through late September, New Jersey’s luscious peaches are in season. Peach parties and festivals abound across the state, allowing restauranteurs to try out new recipes, and amateur bakers to compete over the best pies and cobblers. Many farms offer pick-your-own peach options.
Peaches are not native to New Jersey, but they’ve been here for over 400 years. Thanks to a moderate climate – not too cold in the winter or too hot in the summer – New Jersey is ideally suited for growing peaches.
There are currently about 5,500 acres of peach orchards in New Jersey, and many of these farms are permanently preserved. One preserved farm is the 200-acre Terhune Orchards in Lawrence Township, which grows peaches, apples and many other crops.
“Peaches are difficult to grow,” noted Pam Mount, who runs the farm with her husband, Gary, and their two daughters. “Apple trees can live 100 years, but peach trees are not long-lived.” The fruits themselves are delicate, she added, and need to be handled carefully.
The fragility of peaches makes them all the more worth celebrating when in season. “There’s nothing like a Jersey peach,” said Pam.
Every summer, Terhune Orchards holds a “Just Peachy” festival, which includes farm-to-fork tastings of peach recipes and, for adults, samplings of Terhune’s award-winning peach wine. This year’s festival is scheduled for Saturday and Sunday, July 30 and 31.
Originally from China, peaches migrated throughout the world via Persia (Iran), Greece, Italy, France and Spain. The first European peaches arrived in New Jersey in the early 1600s. By the late 1800s, peaches were grown in abundance in many parts of the state – especially Hunterdon County, where half of the state’s 4.4 million peach trees were located.
The Rockaway Valley Railroad – better known among locals as the “Rock-A-Bye-Baby” - was built in the late1880s, primarily to ship peaches from the Oldwick- Pottersville area. There were also related industries, like a factory in Middle Valley that manufactured 4,000 peach baskets daily.
Disaster struck New Jersey’s peach industry in the late 1800s with a blight known as San Jose scale, which spread quickly and killed nearly three-quarters of New Jersey’s peach trees. By 1910, only about 1.2 million remained. The Rock-A-Bye-Baby Railroad ceased operation in 1913.
However, Pottersville’s heyday as a New Jersey peach growing hub is still celebrated at the annual Pottersville Antiques Show, which includes a food tent featuring fresh peaches and ice cream. This year’s antique show is scheduled for July 28-30. And although the old peach orchards are gone, the Pottersville area is now surrounded by preserved farmland and open space!
Today, New Jersey’s peach industry is once again thriving, thanks to new varieties that have been developed.
Santo Maccherone, owner of CircleM peach orchards in Salem County and president of the New Jersey Peach Promotional Council, said there are currently more than 100 peach varieties available. By planting many varieties, a grower can extend the season. “Every variety ripens at a different time, so we can keep picking, variety to variety,” he explained.
If you’re a baker, compete for prizes and bragging rights in the NJ Peach Promotion Council’s “Perfect Peach Pie” (or cobbler) baking contests, being held at farmers markets throughout the state. If you love sampling new foods, look for local restaurants participating in the “Peach Party” by developing peach-based recipes for everything from soups to main courses to desserts. To download a statewide Peach Party calendar, go to http://jerseypeaches.com/sites/default/files/2016peachpartycalendar.pdf.
To find New Jersey farms where you can pick your own peaches, go to the NJ Department of Agriculture’s Jersey Fresh website at http://jerseyfresh.nj.gov/find/pickyourown.html. For more about Terhune Orchards, go to http://terhuneorchards.com. To learn about the Pottersville Antique Show, go to www.pottersvilleantiqueshow.org.
And to learn more about preserving New Jersey’s farmland, open space and natural resources, visit the New Jersey Conservation Foundation website at www.njconservation.org or contact me at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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