High Desert's Late Peaches: Just in Time


As summer draws to a close, peach lovers need not worry that their favorite fruit is disappearing. Though the best varieties are winding down in the San Joaquin Valley, the high desert is just starting the peak harvest of its peaches. They ripen about three weeks later than those in Fresno, thanks to the desert's colder, longer winters.

Some of the desert varieties are the same as the Central Valley's, such as the familiar O'Henry, which will be widely available the next few weeks. A highly blushed short-fuzzed variety introduced in 1968, it has good peachy flavor even when fairly firm (but not rock-hard).

"O'Henry is the Cadillac of peaches, consistently good every year," says John Tenerelli, who grows 75 acres of fruit in Littlerock, about 10 miles southeast of Palmdale. "Our average sales go from $300 to $500 per market when we put up the signs for them."

Ryan Sun, a seedling of O'Henry, comes on a week later, but has similar texture and flavor.

An old favorite getting harder to find, Rio Oso Gem is lumpy and has a scarred suture dividing its halves. It won't win any beauty prizes, but aficionados prize its rich, almost citrusy flavor.

Even rarer, but worth seeking out, are Indian Blood peaches, which sport long, coarse fuzz over grayish-green skin mottled reddish purple. The flesh, which can be a cream color swirled with crimson or red all the way through, has a pronounced berry flavor and an intense aroma.

Before peaches were a big deal in the high desert, the area was famous for Bartlett pears. In the 1920s, pears grew on more than 6,000 acres, as a main road still bears the name Pearblossom Highway. However, problems with late spring frosts, severe winds and disease made the plantings unprofitable by the 1970s, and today only about 25 acres remain in Los Angeles County.

The high-desert Bartletts are superbly juicy and musky when ripened fresh from the tree. They are ready to eat when they have turned yellow but are still firm. The delicate fruits can be stored for several months but tend to get banged up and taste of storage, so the next month or so is the best time to enjoy them.

The reddish-brown Seckel is rarely grown in California because of its small size, but its highly concentrated, spicy and honeyed flavor makes it worth a special search.

Here are some notable Antelope Valley fruit growers, with varieties worth looking for and some of the markets at which they sell:

Circle C Ranch. Indian Blood peaches and Seckel pears, at Hollywood and Santa Monica.

O-M-R Ranch. O'Henry and Rio Oso Gem peaches, Bartlett pears, at Irvine.

Scattaglia Family Farms. O'Henry and Ryan Sun peaches, at Encino, Hollywood, Irvine, Thousand Oaks and Torrance.

Tenerelli Orchards. O'Henry, Indian Blood and Ryan Sun peaches; it also carries Bartlett pears from George Bones Ranch, at Beverly Hills, Hollywood, Pasadena, Santa Monica and Torrance.

Yingst Ranch. Rio Oso Gem and Indian Blood peaches, Bartlett pears, at Pasadena, Riverside and Victorville.

Yingst Ranch also allows you to pick your own peaches and pears: 35349 80th St. East, Littlerock; (661) 944-2425.

For a list of certified farmers markets in the Southland, go to www.latimes.com/farmers markets.

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