ALABAMA SHOPPERS ENJOY PLENTIFUL CHILTON COUNTY PEACHES
"Montgomery, Ala." After several years of low yields caused by mild winters and summer droughts, Alabama peaches are back. This summer's peach crop promises to be better both in volume and quality than the last few years, according to Chilton County Extension Horticulture Specialist Bobby Boozer.
|Cornelia and William Sanford of Troy select a basket of fresh peaches at the Durbin Farms Market in Clanton.|
"We had the type of winter and spring to see viable fruit buds through. We had several scares during April concerning a late frost, but we made it through without a major freeze-damage problem," said Boozer.
Gary Gray, a Chilton County Extension Service agent, added that only the peaches in the coldest areas of the state were affected by the weather, causing this to be one of the fullest crops Alabama has had in a decade or more.
Whether in a rural or urban setting, Alabama shoppers should have no problem finding state-grown peaches, according to Mike Reeves, chairman of the Alabama Farmers Federation State Horticulture Committee.
"This year's crop is not as good in north Alabama as it is in the central part of the state, but there definitely won't be a shortage of state-grown peaches. There are plenty of Alabama peaches in the supermarkets and at road-side stands," Reeves said.
Durbin Farms in Clanton operates one of the state's most successful road-side markets. The Durbin Farms Market offers free samples of many of the 50 peach varieties it sells. In addition, the market sells all types of peach products, from homemade peach ice cream to peach preserves and peach turnovers.
One returning customer, Rudi Pillow of Florence, purchased fresh Durbin Farms peaches to use in a cobbler. Ms. Pillow said she and her family stop at the market every year on their way back from vacationing in Florida. Andy Millard, owner/operator of the Durbin Farms Market, said the Pillows are typical of his customers.
"Most families return year after year," said Millard. "Most people don't can peaches like they used to, and people like the fresh taste of ours."
For those Alabamians that haven't tasted a state-grown peach, Gray says it is a must. "Alabama peaches are so sweet because they are tree-ripened as long as possible before harvest. The longer they are allowed to ripen on the tree and receive more sunshine, the sweeter they taste. Unlike apples and pears, which easily ripen off the tree, peaches never improve in sugar content after harvest," he said.
Consumers will be glad to discover that not only are peaches delicious, but they also are versatile and nutritious. Peaches can be dried, canned and pickled, made into jams, jellies and preserves, and used as fillings for desserts. Fresh peaches provide adequate amounts of the antioxidant vitamins A and C in addition to providing potassium and fiber. One medium-sized peach contains only 35 calories and 0.1 grams of fat.
When it comes to choosing the perfect peach Gray said peach lovers should remember to pick fragrant peaches that are firm and free from defects such as bruising and insect or disease damage.
According to Gray, Chilton County leads the state in peach production, accounting for nearly 23 million of the 28 million pounds of peaches produced in the state. Rightfully considered the "Peach Capital of Alabama," Chilton County has about 100 peach growers on about 3,000 acres of land, reported Gray. Boozer estimated the average value of Alabama's peach crop to be $6-$7 million per year.