Our series “Branch to Basket” highlights how we bring our orchards’ finest fruit from Southern Oregon direct to your doorstep.
My eyes were still 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 deeply breathed in the sweet Southern Oregon air, scented with dust and the smell of fruit. I smile.
It’s peach season.
The orchards were quiet around us until we came upon a group of 30 farm workers weaving their way through the heavily laden trees, their branches drooping toward the ground only a few feet below with their sweet bounty. The Harry & David harvest team was hard at work picking the soft, sunset-colored peaches by the thousands before carefully laying them in large crates to be taken to the packing house.
Despite how much work needs 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 permeating the air with a laugh or song. The peaches, full and round, called out to passersby, begging to be plucked and eaten like a forbidden fruit in the Garden of Eden. But these beauties were handpicked and are being prepped to be shipped across the world to peach lovers awaiting their first box of Oregold® Peaches.
Harry & David grows seven varieties of peaches — all sold under the name Oregold® Peaches — from about 80 acres of peach trees. 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 continues 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 clipping excess buds off branches to make sure each peach has enough 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.
Beginning with the outermost fruit, the mature peaches are plucked from the tree 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.
“We’ll pick 400 tons of peaches over 35 days in a normal year,” Borman says. That number is small compared to the 500 tons of pears picked per day during pear harvest.
The peaches subtly change from year to year. Some years, the peaches may be sweeter, others more tart. Similar to how grapes from different years can change the vintage of a wine, Oregold® Peaches can shift over the years depending on 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.”
With harvest happening over the next few weeks, it’s prime season for Oregold® Peaches. “When they arrive, they should be slightly firmer than what you’d expect a peach to be,” says Jane Hunts, Merchandise Manager, 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? Throw a few 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.