Come On Over

“Peaches, ripe for the picking,” my neighbour tells me from atop his tractor as he passes by. “We can’t eat them all.”

No need to ask me twice. This morning I headed over with an empty picking sack.

The peachy corner of the neighbour's garden, which was established in the late 19th century.

The peachy corner of the neighbour’s garden, which was established in the late 19th century.

I’ll be honest, in all the years I’ve lived next door to this farm, I thought they only had one kind of peach. Pêche de vigne, vineyard peaches, of which there are several types.

The one grown next door isn’t a pretty variety on the outside, it looks a bit rough, a cowboy peach that’s been out in the weather too long and smoked a few hundred too many cheroots.

Pêche de vigne.

Pêche de vigne.

But there are two heavily laden peach trees, and the second is bending with the weight of green peaches that look vaguely unripe, but are soft to the touch and ready for harvest.

The green-yellow peaches, soft and ripe.

The green-yellow peaches, soft and ripe.

I’m happy to say I took a few of them, too. Because while I have no idea what this kind of peach is called (there are over 2000 kinds of peach), it’s a revelation of taste.

Tangy peach scent with a hint of vanilla, and the flavour is crisp with an aftertaste of honeydew melon.

The first small plate of harvested peaches, the first of many.

The first small plate of harvested peaches, the first of many.

The scent of the pêche de vigne is completely different, a heady mix of sweet and rich red earth. The flesh looks like it’s been steeped in port wine, and that’s pretty much what it tastes like, too.

In the past I’ve made sorbet using these red peaches with a dash of port, and if I do say so myself, it’s not bad.

I was under the close supervision of this guy, who was sitting in the sheep meadow on the other side of the fence.

I was under the close supervision of this guy, who was sitting in the sheep meadow on the other side of the fence.

I foresee a large amount of peach jam, preserved peaches, peach pie and peach sorbet in my near future.

Thanks, neighbour!

Peach Diversity

Peaches Photo: Foodista.com

Peaches
Photo: Foodista.com

When we first moved into the small French village where we live, our elderly neighbors brought over some peaches from their orchard. They weren’t peaches I’d ever seen – greenish-grey, furry enough to be mammal rather than plant, and upon pulling them open, they were burgundy red inside. They tasted like they’d been marinated in port wine then dipped in raspberries. A pêche de vigne (vineyard peach) variety local to France, and our neighbor’s family has been growing them for at least three generations.

The topic today isn’t biodiversity across all kinds of farmed livestock and produce (i.e. lots of different kinds of fruit or vegetables or cattle), but diversity within the same kind of produce (lots of different kinds of peaches, or eggplants, or sheep).

While there has been an increasing focus on ‘heirloom’ varieties of various kinds of produce in some areas, there is more to it than having a broader assortment of flavors from which to choose, or supporting organic farms. A single variety of a given plant is simply more susceptible to disease and climate variations outside of its optimum range.

The United Nations Intergovernmental Panel for Biodiversity and Ecosystem Services, IPBES – an equivalent to the UN panel on climate change (IPCC) – has been discussing the decline in diversity among farmed plants and livestock breeds at the 7th Trondheim Conference on Biodiversity in Norway.

IPBES founding chair Zakri Abdul Hamid said there are 30,000 edible plants worldwide, but only 30 crops account for 95 percent of the energy in human food. This list is headed by rice, wheat, maize, millet and sorghum.

Globalization has led to more homogeneity and a narrowing range of food preferences and tastes, while local and traditional breeds of livestock (or varieties of plants) are exchanged for fewer varieties that yield more meat, milk,  volume, bruise less easily during transport, look like they’re ‘supposed to’, are the only ones promoted by a seed company, etc.

Like other plants and animals in the wild, domesticated plants and animals are undergoing a certain level of extinction due to climate change and lack of robust diversity. From Reuters: “Zakri said it was “more important than ever to have a large genetic pool to enable organisms to withstand and adapt to new conditions.” That would help to ensure food for a global population set to reach 9 billion by 2050 from 7 billion now.”

I don’t know how widely spread the peach trees next door are in France – I’ve never seen them in a supermarket here, but I do see the occasional market stand that carries them – and I always buy them.

After all, my neighbor only has one tree left, and a large family.

Pêche de vigne – Vineyard peaches
Tidy, nursery-bred versions of the woolly ones next door
The name derives from the late season variety – the peaches are ripe at the same time as the grapevines
Photo: Willemse France

A small history note on ‘heirloom’ peach varieties: Recorded history of peach cultivation goes back over 2000 years, in China. From there, the peach was brought to Persia and the Middle East, from where it was imported to the European region by Alexander the Great. It was a favorite fruit of Louis XIV, and we can thank both him and Jean-Baptiste de La Quintinie, Royal Gardener and French agronomist, for creating no less than 34 varieties of peach during the reign of the Sun King.

More:

Reuters articleDecline in biodiversity of farmed plants, animals gathering pace by Alister Doyle

Intergovernmental Platform on Biodiversity and Ecosystem Services (IPBES) website

Tronheim Conferences on Biodiversity website