Last year, we got a bumper crop of apples. It was the first time our young trees really produced a crop of apples in our orchard. This year, the trees bloomed too early to be pollinated; the mason bees and honey bees had not emerged yet because of our unusually early spring.
Then, in midsummer, some blooms appeared on our apple trees. Now, in December, we have a few apples on our trees. They will probably not ripen before the frost comes. Nature is sometimes unpredictable. Each year is not like any before, and recently we have been experiencing increasingly warmer years.
Summer is in full swing, and this week, peaches showed up at the local farmers market. So far, around here this summer has been a hot one, with enough rain to make most of the plants happy. Maybe it's not the best year for sensitive crops like lettuce, but the peaches and tomatoes seem to be loving it.
Peaches, an addition to being a rather quintessential summer fruit, are rather diverse in their uses. They have been a prized fruit throughout their history, and were considered a favorite fruit of the emperors of China. From its origins in China, the peach made its way into Persia, South America, Europe, and eventually, in the 17th century, to Virginia. As was the story with many now-common commercial plants, the peach was not grown as commercially until the 19th century. One of the states where it was first grown commercially was Georgia, helping to establish their long standing affiliation.
Peaches can generally be grown from zones 5 to 8, but most varieties do best in zones 6 or 7. If you live in another zone, don’t worry; with a little research you can select a variety that will grow best in your area. New plants are best planted in spring, when they are about a year old. They do best in neutral to slightly acidic soil that is well drained and moderately fertile. Any peach tree should be planted in full sun, as any shaded or low-lying areas that may be more susceptible to frost can ruin your peach crop. Peaches do require some upkeep once planted. They should be periodically fertilized and pruned. You can check the nursery recommendations or any of the online grower’s guides for help.
Given that the plants can be a bit fussy, maybe it is a wonder that they are so common. However, once you have a nice ripe peach (or, for me, a perfect piece of peach cobbler), it becomes well worth the effort.
Of course, there are tons of ways to use peaches in recipes. For breakfast, you could make peaches with oatmeal, pancakes, pastries, or just fresh with some yogurt. If you are really in a rush, it is an easy in-hand breakfast all by itself. For lunch or dinner, it can make a great addition to salads, salsas, or even a sauce for tofu or other savory dishes. It is also great in many beverages, anything from iced tea to sangria. It can shine as the main ingredient, or just as a lovely garnish. When it comes to dessert, your imagination is pretty much the limit. One of my favorite simple peach desserts (other than peach cobbler) is grilled peaches with honey and a scoop of vanilla ice cream. Simple and delicious.
As is the case with most fruit, it is both good and good for you. It is a good source of dietary fiber, vitamin A, and vitamin C. So, enjoy the summer by pairing it with some fresh peaches and a little bit of imagination, or maybe stick with something tried and true. In either case, it is a great way to enjoy fresh local foods.
If you have been reading my articles, you may have noticed that my weekly trip to the farmers market is one of my favorite mini-adventures. I never know exactly what edible treasure I’m going to find. Sometimes, it is a tried and true staple like beets, which I am happy to consume in very large amounts as long as they are roasted. Then sometimes, it is something that reminds me of my childhood, which was the case when I discovered gooseberries at the fruit vendor. The girls at the vendor were surprised that I was so familiar with the little ribbed berries, but it was one of the items that grew hardily in my family garden as a child. I became an expert in extracting the fruit from its branches without entangling myself with the rather large thorns sported by its bush. For those of you who are unfamiliar with these berries, they are related to currants, which are also fairly obscure, but may be a bit better known.
There are two species of gooseberries: one is the European gooseberry (Ribes grossularia), and the other the American gooseberry (Ribes hirtellum). The European species has origins in North Africa, while the American species, though now extensively crossbred with the European species, originates in the American Northeast.
Although relatively obscure now, that was actually not always the case for gooseberries. They were, in fact, wildly popular during the 19th century, when they were something of a food craze. However, due to white pine blister rust, a mildew disease that affects gooseberries, the plant’s popularity almost completely died out. For a time, it was actually illegal to grow gooseberries in New York State. While the federal law banning their cultivation was rescinded back in 1966, New York State only followed suit in 2003. So, much to my shock, that bush that grew happily in our family garden when I was a child may have actually been illegal.
Well, now that all the controversy has subsided, if you want to grow your own gooseberries, they can be an easy addition to the family garden, especially in the right habitat. However, while the production of the bush may vary depending on the conditions, it really is not a fussy plant. It does not do well in waterlogged or sandy soils, as the roots are shallow, and can be delicate. Therefore, waterlogged soils may cause rot, or can cause sandy soils dry out to fast, preventing proper hydration of the plant. As for sun, morning sun with partial shade in the afternoon is ideal. The leaves can become sun-burnt, but berry production is usually improved by sun exposure, so it is just a matter of finding the right balance it you want to maximize berry production. Gooseberries are hardy from zones 4–8, and they generally require a proper winter in order to produce fruit. Of course, if you are planning to grow your own, do a little research on the varieties available in order to select the best one for your specific climate.
From a nutritional perspective, gooseberries are also rather unique because they contain flavones and anthocyanins, which are both compounds that are considered to have beneficial effects against cancer, aging, inflammation, and neurological diseases. But if you are skeptical, gooseberries are also a good source of dietary fiber and vitamin C. They also contain lower levels of a number of other beneficial compounds, like vitamin B6, magnesium, and potassium.
Now that you have all this wonderful information about this berry that you never even heard about, you are wondering, what do you do with it? And the answer is that you make dessert, or drinks, or jams, or chutneys. As for the desserts, the tart flavor of the berries can be combined with in a number of dishes—everything from cakes and custards to meringues and sorbets. It could also be a great addition to the right savory salad, adding just the right amount of sweet tang to the dish. Gooseberries are also known to pair very well with elderflower, so they can make a great cordial, and, subsequently some very tasty cocktails.
Who knew the unassuming gooseberry was such a figure of controversy? If you want to be a culinary adventurer, maybe give this berry a try the next time you see it. And for the truly adventurous, you could try growing it in your garden, to enjoy for years to come. When it comes to food, you can pretty much bet that there is always something new to try or discovery waiting for you, maybe even a little berry with a big story.
The cherries seem to be ripening early this year. We have a few young trees that have just started bearing fruit in the last couple of years. The fruit is delicious, but I can’t help wondering if global warming is causing the trees to bloom earlier.
Cherries are a great source of antioxidants, and have been noted to help dissolve kidney stones. They can also make a great laxative if you eat enough at one time.
This is the first year that our young trees are bearing pears. It appears that we have some green and some purple varieties at the ecovillage. Our young apple trees that bore fruit for the last time last year have almost no apples on them except for one cluster at the top of one of the trees. They bloomed too early this year and the blossoms were all gone before our bees emerged for the season.
And finally- a small cluster of apples at the top of one tree.