My eyes were squinting from the early morning sun when I arrived at the Harry & David peach orchards. Wrapped in a sweater on an unseasonably cool summer morning, I breathed in the Southern Oregon air, scented with the sweet smell of fruit. I smiled.
It’s peach season.
The orchards were quiet around us until we came upon a group of about 30 harvesters weaving their way through the heavily laden trees, branches drooping with their sweet bounty. The crew was hard at work picking the soft, sunset-colored peaches by the thousands before carefully placing them in large wooden crates to be taken to the packing house.
Despite how much work needed to get done in a short period of time, the workers were calm. Treating this like a rote, yet elegant dance, the harvesters moved from tree to tree with quick, skillful movements, occasionally filling the air with a laugh or a song. The handpicked peaches, full and round, called out to me, begging to be eaten like a forbidden fruit in the Garden of Eden. But these beauties would soon be prepped to be shipped to peach lovers across the country.
Harry & David grows seven varieties of peaches — all sold under the name Oregold® Peaches — from about 80 acres of orchards. The average age of a peach tree is 12–16 years, but some of their trees are pushing 23 years and still producing fruit!
The annual peach harvest is now in full swing and will continue until mid-August.
Oregold® Peaches are delivered to customers as close to ripe as possible, which means they are watched closely, as 48 hours can mean the difference between not ripe and too ripe. “We pick peach trees multiple times,” says Matthew Borman, Vice President, Orchards at Harry & David. “Our team will pick through the tree to find the fruit that’s ready.”
Borman and his team take special care of the peach trees. This includes thinning blooms from each branch to make sure each peach has the sunlight, water, and space to grow to its full potential. “We’re willing to sacrifice volume to make sure the quality gets to the customer,” he says. “We’ll pick 400 tons of peaches over 35 days in a normal year.”
Beginning with the outermost fruit, the mature peaches are plucked from the tree by hand and carefully transferred to the packing house. There, the peaches are carefully packed into the Harry & David trademark box before being shipped off to the faithful fans of this fuzzy fruit.
The flavor of the peaches varies subtly from year to year. Some years, they are sweeter, other years more tart. Similar to how grapes from different vintages can change the characteristics of a wine, the characteristics of Oregold® Peaches are affected by the natural resources available. “This is all about seasonality,” Borman explains. “It’s not a perfect science — it’s about sunshine, water, nutrition, and age. If you get them off the tree and the juice runs down your face, it’s all wonderful.”
Regardless of the year, harvest is the best time to enjoy Oregold® Peaches, when they are delivered at the peak of freshness. “When they arrive, they should be slightly firmer than what you’d expect a peach to be,” says Jane Hunts, Merchandise Manager of Fruit for Harry & David. “You want to put them on your counter until they soften just a bit and then you get that strong peach smell.” Hunts suggests putting your peaches in the fridge or freezer as soon as they’re ripe to help them last for a week or more, or until the winter, if they’re frozen.
Need some recipe inspiration? Place a few halved Oregold® Peaches on the grill to add to a caprese salad, and pair it with a peach sangria. Or make peach overnight oats for those mornings when you’re on the go.