Peaches are one of the oldest and best-selling fruits in the country. Since they were first cultivated in China centuries ago, they have evolved from cling to freestone varieties, the former type having a pit that adheres to the flesh of the fruit and the latter which readily releases the seed for easy eating and slicing of the body. There are numerous freestone varieties with different characteristics and harvest times.
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Most Popular Varieties
Based on its beauty, extraordinary rich, sweet taste and extended shelf life, Elegant Lady is the top freestone peach variety. O’Henry peaches are second in popularity and known for their large size and scarlet streak that runs close to the pit of the fruit.
First on the Market
The earliest type of freestone peach to appear in supermarkets, sometimes as early as April, is the reliably tasty Redtop. Crest peaches are also harvested early and fall into the relatively new category of semi-freestone based on pits that gently cling to the peach flesh but can be twisted for easy removal.
The Crest family of freestone peaches, which includes Queen Crest, May Crest and Ray Crest, start to show up in produce departments and at farmers’ markets in the first week of May. Crests are known for their brilliant red and yellow colors and outstanding flavor. A week or so later, you will find Spring Lady peaches for sale, the first in the Lady peach family. Rich Lady and June Lady varieties are harvested several days behind Spring Ladies. All the Ladies have deep red peels and juicy, succulent flavors. In August, Fairtime peaches become available, and Carnival peaches, the latest harvested of the season, are marketed in late September and early October. Fairtime and Carnival peaches have good flavors and textures that make them preferable for freezing.
Peach growers crossed the top-ranked Elegant Lady and O’Henry varieties to develop the Summer Lady. White peaches are quickly growing in popularity. Babcock, currently the most sought-after white peach variety, includes 10 to 12 subvarieties. Sugar Giant and White Lady, two of the newest white peach types, are predicted to be heavy competition for the Babcocks.
If you shop for peaches outside the domestic season from April to early October, the peaches you find for sale will most likely be Chilean imports, such as Springcrest, O’Henry, Merrill, Flavorcrest, Gemfree and Elegant Land. Seek out peaches labeled "tree ripened" or "well mature," as these have been allowed to mature on the trees before harvesting. Buy peaches stored in open bins at room temperature in the market.