Perfectly Ripe Peaches
Many years ago, a friend from Anderson Valley brought me a flat of peaches from Gower's the fruit stand a few mile west of Boonville. I still remember them as the best peaches I have ever tasted. The thing, is they were perfectly ripe. They were really easy to peel. The skin would just come off like it does from a blanched tomato.
I've haunted farmers markets (and returned to Gower's) ever since, and while I've certainly gotten lots of good peaches, I still remember that first box from Gower's, and I've developed this theory that the challenge in peaches isn't to find a certain variety, but to find those that are perfectly ripe.
A few years ago a woman at another fruit stand taught me a trick. She said to check the "cheeks" on the stem end, and not to buy a peach unless there was a bit of give, or softness, there. I don't manhandle 20 peaches to find those those that pass the test. I'm very gentle, and this test has proven useful.
Still, I rarely find a perfectly ripe peach. I've given up on Frog Hollow, because I almost never find one of their peaches that passes the test. My theory is that when one does the volume they are doing it gets difficult to pick them when they're really ripe.
On several occasions I've been assured that hard-as-rock peaches from various farms will soften if I leave them out on the counter, but a week later they're still hard as rocks.
Anybody else have suggerstions or inside knowledge on this subject?
As a long-time fan of stone fruit, I partly agree with what you say. The best fruit is always tree-ripened. However, the "give" alone isn't always an accurate indication, as fruit that has been sitting around for a while after being picked when not-quite-ripe also can have that give. A better indication is some softness, coupled with a distinct peach aroma. Sometimes it's just a kind of "creamy" aroma, but if there's no aroma at all, the peaches are rarely good, IMO.
As for different varieties, I feel strongly that some varieties are consistently better than others. Among my favorites are Suncrest, Cal Red, and Angelus, none of which are commercial varieties. To expand, many of the best peaches and nectarines are non-commercial varieties that tend to be less attractive, and don't travel well.
I agree about Frog Hollow and most other vendors -- regardless of variety, they tend to pick more on the less-ripe side, although still riper than the average store fruit. In fairness to stone fruit growers in general, they have to deal with a narrow time window between ripe and rotten. You will always get the best and ripest fruit at the orchard, especially if you find a good U-pick place and pick it yourself.
You might consider Andy's Orchard in Morgan Hill -- they grow many heirloom varieties, and pick their fruit fairly ripe (no U-pick though).
I love the variety at Andy's. The skin on the freestone peaches zips right off, the way TopoTail describes. Easy to peel the nectarines too. While picked ripe, the fruits keep well at room temperature for about four or five days. After that, they do decline a bit, getting overly soft, but are still very good for eating out of hand.
Andy's Orchard fruit is also sold at C J Olson in Sunnyvale, if one can't get to the home ranch in Morgan Hill.
I bought the best nectarines I've ever eaten last Sat. at Andy's. I usually don't eat raw fruit since it can be so disappointing, but I ate that entire nectarine in the parking lot and then went back in for more. Perfect balance of sweet and acid and so juicy you need to eat them over the sink.
Only pears ripen off the tree. Only freestone peaches have skins that are easy to peel off, clings you need a knife no matter how ripe they are.
I buy from Ram Das Orchards at the Berkeley Tuesday and Saturday farmers markets.
Drive out to Brentwood and go to the farm stands. Certain varieties that have a short season tend to be available dead ripe in quantity if you hit the right day. Fay Elberta is one I look for. Andy's has them: