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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?

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  1. Probably too far, but there is this ranch in Esparto in the Capay Valley

    I discovered it maybe 15 years ago when Sunset did an article on an almost extinct peach. I think O Henry?

    1. Kashiwase. Find it. Thank me when you do.

      2 Replies
      1. re: FattyDumplin

        Kashiwase is always at the San Mateo farmers market Saturday morning. Always busy and always the best/most variety.

        1. re: alwayshungrygal

          Also at Mountain View Farmers market. I love that they pick most of their fruit at peak ripeness.

      2. 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).

        1. Andy Mariani in Morgan Hill
          Not only does he grow an amazing variety of stone fruit but picks it when ripe
          As far as farmers market growers I only trust Woodleaf farms. Also a great stone fruit grower.

          2 Replies
          1. re: cakebaker

            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.

            1. re: cakebaker

              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.

            2. 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:


              1. The best peaches in the greater Bay Area, hands down, are from a small farm in Healdsburg, Dry Creek Peach and Produce--picked dead ripe, sold at their farm stand and Sonoma farmer's markets.

                I dream about these peaches; and when asked a couple years ago what she'd choose for a "last meal," Alice Waters named one of their fall peach varieties.

                1 Reply
                1. re: sundeck sue

                  While I buy far more fruit from Andy's Orchard (a flat a week during the season), Dry Creek Peach tops even Andy's superlative produce. The downside is that DCP fruit is picked so ripe, I have learned to buy just what I can eat the day of purchase and the next. Sure, I could refrigerate them, but they lose something after that and I prefer not to. The fragrance inside DCP's farm shed is unbelievable.

                  If you buy from Dry Creek Peach, be sure to have packing materials to insulate your purchase. I have a fruit box with plastic indentations to nestle each piece that I line with bubble wrap and/or foam that I use for transport. Even so, the less than 10 minute ride to get home still bruises some. Maybe I should put a pillow under the box for extra shock absorption.

                  A16 did a special dinner featuring DCP last week.

                  More on Dry Creek Peach

                2. Y'all may already know this: One other thing to look for in a tree-ripened peach is a background color near the stem that is yellow, with no shade of green.

                  1. It's an interesting theory but I've certainly eaten enough perfectly ripe peaches where this phenom didn't manifest (but then again, I don't mind skin, so I didn't exactly test it). I think your best bet for finding the most ripe fruit is simply to walk about the farmer's market and taste. Almost all growers are growing many different varieties which ripen in different weeks, so it's hard to stick to one and expect best results over the course of the season. Also, some years the fruit just tastes better than in others due to seasonal variations.

                    1. Ram Das has already been mentioned. Woodleaf Farm is another good one at the Berkeley farmers markets. I had some phenomenal June Prides from them in early July.

                      1 Reply
                      1. re: mdougherty

                        +1 for Woodleaf. Carl is a Peach Whisperer.

                      2. I think you mean Gowan's. I went over to Wolfe Ranch in Brentwood and got some very nice Fay Elberta's. Wolfe Ranch will close soon for the stone fruit season. The Hayward Farmer's Market, which is my local, will have O'Henry Peaches, another favorite, this weekend or next.