Keen for Colorado peaches? Here’s some ideas for how to enjoy them
– By Emily Kemme –
Colorado peaches are celebrated for their intense sweetness and because they’re bursting with juice. Grown on the Western Slope, these dribble-worthy stone fruits owe these qualities to flavor-building sunny days, cool nights that retain that flavor and a soil full of minerals.
According to the United States Department of Agriculture, Colorado produced 11,330 tons of peaches last year, ranking number six out of eight peach growing states in the country. There’s high demand for the state’s peaches, locally and around the country.
But agriculture is a tricky business that’s tied to finicky weather patterns. Peach blossoms are particularly susceptible to spring freezes.
“If you get a freeze in spring when flowers are budding, they’re the precursor to fruit and you don’t get it,” Brian Coppom says. Coppom is the Colorado Agricultural Future Loans Program Manager at the Colorado Department of Agriculture.
Fall weather can cause trouble too: on October 26, 2020, temperatures plummeted from 60 degrees down to single digits overnight in Paonia and Palisade, the region where most of the state’s peaches are grown. That freeze wiped out or damaged thousands of fruit trees.
The 2022 season is looking peachy keen for both farmers and peach-lovers: Palisade producers are predicting a 90-percent survival rate, even after a mid-April scare when the mercury dropped into the mid-20s. When that happens, farmers haul out huge fans to blow air across orchards to prevent frost from developing.
Coppom recommends buying from local growers who sell peaches and other Colorado-produced fruits like apricots, cherries, pears and plums at farmers markets. Many organizations source peaches and sell them as fundraisers too.
“The money you’re paying for that product isn’t significantly more expensive than what you pay in the grocery store, and it’s mitigating flooding, topsoil loss, creating a pollinator habitat and supporting the grower’s community,” Coppom says.
Peach season starts the end of June for semi-clingstone varieties, so-called because the flesh clings to the stone (or pit); freestone peach harvest season (the flesh separates easier from the stone) starts the end of July and wraps up by mid-September.
Fort Collins Peach Festival on August 27
For over a decade, Rotary Clubs of Fort Collins have put on the Fort Collins Peach Festival, drawing attendees from along the Front Range. In 2019, attendance was over 16,000 people.
This year will be a daytime event at the Holiday Twin Drive-In from
11 a.m.-6 p.m.
The festival sources Colorado peaches from Palisade grower Noland Orchards. Most are sold as pre-orders; people are encouraged to pick up peaches the day of the event and stay for entertainment, food and fun.
“The peach festival is a community festival to highlight Rotary in our local and international work and how we involve local businesses,” committee chairperson David Haase says.
This year features Fort Collins music school, School of Rock, and Denver’s Mariachi Sol de mi Tierra with Fiesta Colorado Dance Company. The concert continues with classic rock band Clark Street Station, and wraps up with the danceable ska band headliner, 12 Cents for Marvin.
Festivals mean food, and there will be plenty of it. Choose from Panhandler’s Pizza’s peach-topped pies, Tacos el Diablo, Dill’s Maine Lobster Shack, Sunny Sky Pies and Kona Ice. Cool off with peach margaritas or a craft brew from participating brewers Horse & Dragon Brewing Company, Maxline Brewing, Odell Brewing Co., Rally King Brewing and Gilded Goat Brewing Company.
Peach growing on the high plains
Growing peach trees is tricky on the Front Range: they flower early and are susceptible to damage from late spring frost, according to Plant Talk Colorado.
If you’re determined to have your own peach orchard, plant trees in full sun with well-drained soil. During cold months, from mid-November through mid-April, wrap tree trunks to prevent sun scald or other damage. For a list of varieties that thrive in Colorado and whether to spray with insecticide, consult the Plant Talk website.
Social’s Peachin’ to the Choir cocktail
In this riff on a gin and tonic, Fort Collins’ underground cocktail bar Social’s general manager Nathan Robertson and his team developed a simple, accessible cocktail that any home mixologist can make (see recipe).
“For summer cocktails, freshly squeezed peach juice—or peach nectar if fresh juice isn’t an option—works better than a purée because as soon as peaches are cooked, they lose a lot of their fresh character,” Robertson says. “Although a purée might work well for a late summer or fall drink, fresh juice is tastier in summertime.”
Robertson recommends peeling the peaches prior to running them through the juicer, but don’t worry about removing every last shred of peach skin. Social uses a home juicer by Breville.
Peachin’ to the Choir
1.5 oz. gin
1.5 oz. peach juice, strained through a fine strainer
1oz. Rosemary-Honey Syrup (recipe below)
Fever Tree Tonic Water top off
Combine all ingredients with ice in a tall glass. Stir lightly to incorporate. Garnish with a sprig of rosemary and peach slices.
1/2 cup honey
1/2 cup water
4-5 sprigs fresh rosemary
Heat honey, water and rosemary sprigs over low heat until honey has dissolved. Take off heat and let syrup sit, covered, for three hours. Strain out rosemary sprigs.
Grilled Peaches with Roasted White Chocolate Ice Cream, Maple Rum Gastrique and Bacon-Thyme Crumble
Grilling peaches summons their essential sweetness by slowly caramelizing the sugars. In this dessert recipe created by Sheridan Call, head pastry chef at Chimney Park in Windsor, roasted white chocolate ice cream nestles atop grilled peach halves drizzled with maple rum gastrique and a savory note of bacon-thyme crumbles.
“Grilling keeps the texture of the peach firm and fresh while also maximizing taste,” Call says.
To assemble: Wash and halve peaches. Heat grill. Remove peach pit and place peaches on heated grill. Once some charring has occurred, and the peach has cooked completely through, remove and plate up. Scoop the ice cream and place in the hollow, top with bacon crumbles and drizzle gastrique. 4-6 peaches will create 8-12 servings. Enjoy!
Roasted White Chocolate Ice Cream
16 oz. high quality white chocolate, chopped
8 oz. full fat milk
16 oz. heavy cream
4 oz. granulated sugar
6 large egg yolks
Heat oven to 350 degrees and put the chopped chocolate in an oven safe pan, metal or glass, and roast the chocolate until it turns caramel brown.
Heat cream, milk and sugar to a simmer.
Scoop the roasted chocolate into the heated mixture. Using an immersion blender, blend the chocolate and cream mixture and then strain to remove any remaining chocolate pieces.
Temper in the eggs and cook over low heat until ice cream base reaches 180 degrees. Chill and process in ice cream machine.
Note: tempering combines hot liquid with raw eggs but doesn’t cook the eggs. To temper eggs, slowly drizzle hot cream mixture over raw eggs, constantly whisking to ensure eggs don’t cook. Once hot cream has been incorporated, return the mixture back to the pot, continuing to stir gently over low heat until liquid reaches 180 degrees. Immediately pour mixture into another bowl and refrigerate to prevent sauce from curdling.
Maple Rum Gastrique
8 oz. maple syrup
3 oz. rum
8 oz. apple cider vinegar
1 tsp salt
Combine everything in a pot and simmer until it reduces to half. Cool and use as a tart and sweet topping
Bacon and Thyme Crumble
8 oz. bacon, finely chopped
2 thyme sprigs
3 oz. brown sugar
1/2 tsp. salt
Over medium heat, combine bacon crumbles with thyme. Once bacon has rendered and crisped, drain fat off and sprinkle brown sugar and salt on top. Reduce heat and stir constantly to let the sugar caramelize. Cool and use as a topping.
Emily Kemme is a Colorado food writer. She begins counting the days to Colorado peach season each year on June 1.