Shawnee News-Star Blog July 9th 2017 Becky Emerson Carlberg When I think of peaches, the first thing that comes to mind is the Chickasaw National Recreation Area (CNRA) near Sulphur. The day is spent wandering up and down trails, visiting the Travertine Nature Center and sticking our feet into the fresh waters of Buffalo [...]
Shawnee News-Star Blog July 9th 2017
Becky Emerson Carlberg
When I think of peaches, the first thing that comes to mind is the Chickasaw National Recreation Area (CNRA) near Sulphur. The day is spent wandering up and down trails, visiting the Travertine Nature Center and sticking our feet into the fresh waters of Buffalo Springs or the healing mineral waters at Bromide Pavilion. On our way home we usually stop at a roadside stand north of Stratford to buy peaches.
The CNRA just celebrated its 115th anniversary this July 1st. Many people remember when it was the Platt National Park, but does anyone know it was originally designated Sulphur Springs Reservation July 1st 1902? Sulphur Springs became Platt National Park in 1906. It was the 7th and smallest national park in the USA. From 1933-1940, the Civilian Conservation Corp (CCC), with the largest and longest running workforce in OK at that time, managed to build the park infrastructure, link it with roads and trails, and plant over a half of million trees and shrubs. In 1976, Platt National Park combined with the Arbuckle Recreation Area and was downgraded to the Chickasaw National Recreation Area. Oklahoma lost its only national park, but the plus side is CNRA is free to the public, at least for now.
How about those peaches? Strawberries ripen during the May floods, blackberries sweeten for cobblers in June, and peaches become perfect in July. There are over 2,000 varieties of the native to China peach cultivars (Prunus persica). Peaches arrived in the USA in the 17th century. Thomas Jefferson grew peaches at Monticello. Over 20 varieties that can withstand the OK climate, so the season for enjoying ripe peaches can stretch over weeks. When my dad planted his orchard in southeast Oklahoma, some peaches were Nectar white and others were Elbertas. The Elberta peach was developed in Georgia and would ripen about midseason. It was a large, juicy but not super sweet, freestone peach that turned deep red and gold when ripe. My father would never know what a ripe Elberta tasted like. He loved to crunch into his fruits, and peaches were no exception. My mother would insist the peaches be ripe before she would turn her hands to making jams or pies.
The humidity and heat fostered an amazing diversity of fungi and bacteria. Peach leaf curl was tackled with Bordeaux mixture when the peach trees were dormant. If the trees made it through the spring frosts, my father would spray for leaf spot through the growing season. He kept a lookout for cankers and peach tree borers, checking for holes, oozing sap or wet gummy patches on the trunks or branches. His hope was to harvest enough peaches to line the kitchen counter.
Southeast Oklahoma is not exactly fruit orchard country. The moisture and lack of a dependable wind pretty well shut down most fruit trees after a time. My dad's peaches were planted on a hillside, but in summer the availability of water became an issue. Despite all the drawbacks, my father would harvest peaches most years. He was determined to beat Mother Nature at her own game.
We just happen to be in peach season right now. Five thousand peach trees are growing in straight lines at the Wind Drift Orchard in Harrah. Glohavens are currently being harvested. Porter and Stratford produce the bulk of peaches sold in Oklahoma. Many come from Redhaven, Loring, Biscoe and Garnet Beauty trees. Hale Haven used to be quite popular.
The 51st annual Porter Peach Festival will be July 13th-15th 2017. Porter proclaims itself the 'Official Peach Capital of the State of Oklahoma.' The Peach Festival parade starts at 11 am on July 15th. Of all the competitions and shows, I personally think the peach cobbler, desserts, and preserves contest is most important. Of course the free peaches and ice cream served at the fire station ranks high. Porter sits in the Ozark Highlands between Muskogee and Broken Arrow in northeast Oklahoma. Much of the land is hilly with well-drained soil.
When I searched for specific varieties (names) of peaches, the Livesay Orchard in Porter, largest orchard in the state, proudly say their peaches come in two varieties of colors: yellow flesh has more acid and is tangier than the white mildly sweet flesh and their peaches have two varieties of stone: freestone peaches that do not stick to the pit and ripen July to October and the semi-freestone peaches that reluctantly pull away from the pit but ripen earlier in June into early July (no clingstones are grown.) Peaches come in two grades: #1 is almost perfect and the #2s have small defects. Not to be outdone, the Peach Barn Orchard and Bakery in Porter sell homegrown peaches, produce and Porter peach ice cream, Porter peach salsa, Porter peach fried pies, Porter peach butter, Porter peach BBQ sauce, Porter peach jam and Porter peach sundaes. Just can't forget where these peaches are from, can you.
Stratford Oklahoma is in south central OK north of Sulphur, home of the CNRA. Stratford claims they are the 'Peach Capital of Oklahoma' official or not! Johnson City, SC insists they are 'The Official Peach Capital of the World.' Georgia is known as the Peach State, but its most lucrative crop is blueberries! Now that we have straightened out all the peach propaganda, the Stratford Peach Festival parade is to begin at 5 pm July 13th. The full-fledged festival is held July 15th. The farmers quickly sell their peaches, the peach auction takes place in City Park, and they too have a cooking contest, car show and entertainment. Peach Crest Farms are USDA certified organic, Peach Tree Farms sell peaches and local produce, and Pullen Peaches advertise tender, juicy peaches. Gently rolling plains with sandy soil form the lands of Stratford.
The popular variety of peach grown today is the Redhaven. According to the OSU Fact Sheet HLA-6210 'Apple and Peach Varieties for Oklahoma', the Redhaven is the standard to which all other peaches are compared when it comes to harvest. The average ripening date at Perkins Research Station is July 12-16th. Redhavens ripen 2 to 5 days earlier in southern OK and later to the north. The OSU fact sheet compares the best peach varieties to grow in OK by fruit size, hardiness, leaf spot resistance and other characteristics. To make your life a little easier, plant disease resistant or tolerant peach cultivars. My dad, if he could, would approve.