It is the time of year for peaches — fresh, local beauties bursting with flavorful, juicy goodness sit in bushels at local fruit stands.
Irvin Maddox, general manager of Maddox Ranch House in Perry — in the heart of peach country — likes to use his own family recipe during the season. His restaurant serves more than 500 slices of fresh peach pie (at $4.99 per slice) each day at this time of year.
No one is really sure how or when the peach pie tradition started.
When Maddox asked an employee who has worked in the kitchen for more than 44 years, she said she’s sure it was a well-established custom when she came to the business.
To keep up with peach pie sales, Maddox Ranch House hires extra staff and has at least eight people peeling and slicing fresh peaches for 14 hours every day.
“It’s really labor intensive,” Maddox said. “It is part of our identity. It wouldn’t be worth it otherwise.”
The seasonal peach pies are around for only about six weeks, and people travel from all over the state to get them while they can.
“The pies are completely seasonal, so (their availability) depends on the local peaches,” Maddox said.
To make the pies, they mix sliced peaches in a homemade glaze, heap them in a crust and top it off with fresh extra-heavy whipping cream. Once made, the pies are good only for a few hours and need to be consumed promptly.
Maddox said that part has never been a problem.
Maddox Ranch House has been around for 64 years, but peaches have been big business in Box Elder County for more than 100 years. And the Peach Days Festival, which takes places this weekend in Brigham City, dates back to 1904.
A temperate climate
Peach farmer Thayne Tagge of Perry believes that early settlers in the area began planting peach trees because the climate is well-suited for the orchards.
“People figured out that this is a good region to grow peaches because the lake effect keeps temperatures moderated a little bit,” Tagge said.
Box Elder County’s Utah State University Extension agent Mike Pace agreed, adding that the cold air settles over the lake instead of the land, leaving the blossoms on the trees, growing on the foothills, unfrozen. A stretch of U.S. 89 in the county has long been known as Utah’s famous Fruit Way.
Tagge said he left his career as a certified public accountant in Salt Lake City to buy a 27-acre farm from Paul Sumida in 1997.
In the 1980s, Tagge and his wife Cari started a side business of bringing raspberries home from Bear Lake during the harvest season in August to sell them in Salt Lake City.
That business grew to include several stands, as well as supplying the berries to farmers markets. Eventually, they added Box Elder peaches to sell along with the raspberries.
That’s how the Tagges got to know Sumida, a peach farmer who agreed to spend one year teaching Thayne how to farm before selling him the property and retiring.
“That is how I switched from being a CPA to farming,” Tagge said. “It has been a really good adventure for me.”
He has since added another 42 acres of land and a high-tech irrigation system, allowing him to deliver just the right amount of water to each plant and tree. He operates a fruit stand at 3431 S. U.S 89 in Perry.
Tagge has extended his peach harvesting season to span from June to mid-October by planting more than 30 varieties of peaches.
Pace explained that each variety of peach is harvested for 7 to 10 days of the year, so the more varieties a farmer plants, the more staggered his crops and the longer his season.
The Early Elberta is ready to be harvested in time for Peach Days each year. Tagge described this peach as yellow and smooth with a pit and skin that are easy to remove. They are perfect peaches for canning, but they go soft quickly if not eaten or preserved.
“They are not great for the producer, but people love them,” Tagge said.
He described other varieties such as the Sierra Gem, a firm, dark peach that comes on early in the season, and the Oh Henry, a peach that can last in the refrigerator for up to three weeks.
“Every peach has its own characteristics,” he said. “But, every variety from Labor Day on is really fantastic.”
Pace explained that most consumers of Box Elder peaches don’t pay attention to the subtle differences between the many varieties.
“What they want is a fresh, tree-ripened peach,” he said. So, they are usually satisfied when they buy peaches in the area and return three weeks later for more, even though they are getting something different.
“There is nothing better than a nice juicy peach,” Tagge said.
If you’re looking for new ways to take advantage of the gift from nature called the peach, Lori Nawyn of Brigham City has some ideas for you.
In her cookbook “Peach 101: Recipes Your Mother Never Told You About,” Nawyn shares ideas for main dishes, desserts and sides like peach salsa and peach zucchini bread.
Nawyn will meet readers and sign copies of her cookbook from 1 p.m. to 8 p.m. Saturday at 37 S. Main St., Brigham City, as part of this weekend’s 2012 Peach Days celebration.
The following recipes come from her cookbook
1 cup oil
2 cups sugar
1 cup shredded zucchini
1 cup fresh peaches, diced
3 cups flour
1 teaspoon baking soda
1 teaspoon baking powder
Preheat oven to 325 degrees. Beat oil, sugar and eggs together.
Stir in zucchini and peaches, mixing well. Sift together dry ingredients and slowly stir into wet mixture. Bake in oiled and floured bread pans at 325 degrees for 60-minutes or until a toothpick inserted in the center of the loaves comes out clean.
1 cup fresh, ripe peaches, chopped
3/4 cups fresh tomatoes, chopped
1/2 cup sweet red onion, chopped
1 teaspoon minced garlic
1 green onion, thinly sliced
2 teaspoons cilantro, chopped
1 tablespoon olive oil
2 tablespoons lime juice
1-2 teaspoons granulated sugar
Combine peaches, tomatoes, red onion, garlic, green onion and cilantro. Set aside. In a separate bowl, whisk together olive oil, lime juice and sugar until sugar is dissolved. Pour over peach mixture and stir gently to combine. Chill. Store in a sealed container in the refrigerator. Serve with tortilla chips, eggs, fish or chicken.
1 1/2 cups fresh peaches, chopped
1/2 teaspoon lemon juice
1 egg, beaten
1 cup biscuit mix
1/2 cup nonfat half and half
Combine all ingredients and mix well. If necessary, thicken the batter with flour. Drop balls of batter into hot oil and fry until golden brown. Serve warm, sprinkled with powdered sugar.
Sharon’s Glazed Peaches and Pork
18-ounce jar peach jam or preserves
8-ounce bottle Russian dressing
1 package dry Lipton Onion Soup mix
Pork loin pieces
2-3 peaches sliced
Stir together jam, dressing and soup mix. Pour over pork loin pieces and peaches in slow cooker. Cook on medium heat 4-5 hours, stirring every half-hour. Serve over rice.