By the time peaches start ripening in Utah, the harvest on my home farm in California is almost past. I grew up on a fruit farm in the heart of the San Joaquin Valley, in Reedley, “The Fruit Basket of the World.” The earliest varieties are ripe in May, and by the end of August, the orchards are just about exhausted and emptied of their bounty.
I worked in a fruit packing shed from the time I was a small girl until well into my college years. It was hard work in the heat of summer with long hours and little rest. Summers were never considered a time for family vacations or fun. We worked all day, every day, filling thousands and thousands of boxes with fruit that was sent all over the world.
Every week in our Orem, Utah Costco, I find plenty of fruit from Reedley. My brother still runs the packing shed, and our fruit fills grocery stores all over the nation. But we didn’t start out that way.
My earliest memories of peaches in the summer are of working with my Grandma Elsa, cutting peaches for drying. In the days before cold storages, we dried peaches on large wooden trays in the sun. The work was fun, but sticky and itchy. We raced to see who could fill the trays the fastest. Grandma always won. She was so good with her hands.
Here are a couple of newspaper clippings I found that show what drying peaches looked like back then. The wooden trays were spread in the sun like this, after being sulfured in the sulfer house (below). The sulfur kept the fruit from rotting in the sun, and it turned the peaches bright yellow. It took several days for the peaches to dry in temperatures well over 100 degrees. You could tell the peaches were dry enough by feeling the skin on the bottom of each peach half. If the skin still slipped they needed more sun. We called those “frog bellies.” When the skin held its place, they were dry enough.
The peaches on the tray above were obviously not cut by someone like my grandma. The peaches needed to touch each other when you placed them on the tray so they wouldn’t rock or tip. You did not want to loose any of the precious sweet nectar juice held in the peach cup. These peaches are probably on their 3rd or 4th day of drying, still needing a lot more sun.
Here is an actual photo I found in my grandma’s photo album of the peach drying on our farm! That’s an amazing amount of cut peaches! What fun to find an actual picture!
When I was a little girl, fruit was picked into buckets and packed into boxes out in the field. I learned to pack fruit at my Grandma Elsa’s side. Each peach or plum was put into a purple or red paper cup. Each row of each size had to be counted and each of the two layers in each box had to fit perfectly–not too tight, not too loose.
These were the days before packing machines that grade, size, clean and sort the fruit. In the olden days of my childhood, we did all of that by hand, lovingly. I have such happy memories of those times, working alongside my grandma, learning to make my hands work fast and efficiently. Loving fruit, before sending it off into the world.
Below is a photo of when the packing operation moved into the shed from the field in the 1960s. We packed from buckets, placing each fruit in a paper cup, counting each row in each size. The cups were held in the tin cylinder in front of the bucket.
Below are the stacked packed boxes. You’ll see Grandma Elsa working at the right.
All these happy memories came to mind this week as we are finally picking our first peaches here in Utah. Our neighbor has about 3 acres of peaches. I watch those trees all summer from my kitchen window. Finally they are ready to pick. And I am ready to eat them!