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Peach-perfect growing fields in the Highland Lakes

Pancho Delgado of Longhorn Organic Farms

Pancho Delgado, known as the unofficial Mayor of Hoover's Valley, thins peach clusters on the trees at Longhorn Organic Farms, one of the few peach orchards in Burnet County. Peaches grow better in the sandy soil of Gillespie County, home of the Stonewall Peach JAMboree, which is June 17-19. Staff photo by Daniel Clifton

The pursuit of peachy goodness in Texas ultimately leads all pioneers of peach perfection to Gillespie County, where the Stonewall Peach JAMboree once again will be held on the third weekend of June. 

Peach season officially begins in mid-May and runs through mid-August in Gillespie County. The JAMboree, which this year is June 17-19, marks the season’s peak, when cling peaches take a back basket to the all-time favorite freestone peach. 

“Mid-June is the best time of the year to buy peaches,” said Jessica Robertson of Marble Falls, who has deep family roots in the peach industry. “From late June into early August, that’s the time of the freestone peaches.” 

Cling peaches have to be cut from the pit, while freestone peaches peel away easily. Freestones also have more flavor and taste, Robertson said. As the offspring of peach royalty and a member of the family that owns Backbone Valley Nursery in Marble Falls (which sells peach trees), her opinion is paramount. 

Robertson’s grandfather Samual Burg planted one of the first peach orchards on land set aside for German immigrants after Texas won its freedom from Mexico. Although still in business today, Burg’s Corner in Stonewall is now the retail site for Jimmy Druecker Orchards, which has been in the business since the 1950s. 

The story of Burg’s Corner is not unique. Peach growers in Stonewall and Fredericksburg hail from a profusion of family dynasties still passing on their fruitful tradition to their offspring.

Luana Gold Priess is the fourth generation to run Gold Orchards Inc. in Stonewall. She and husband Ricky grow 24 varieties in the area’s sandy, peach-conducive soil. 

Though a seasonal fruit, peach production is a year-round, labor-intensive endeavor that demands constant attention to the weather, Priess said. 

“The picking is all by hand,” she explained. “I grew up in the business and had to do my share. It’s hot and itchy. Then, they are washed and graded, sorted in size.” 

Labor goes beyond the picking. Gold’s and most other peach stands also sell cobblers, pies, preserves, and — Gold’s speciality — ice cream. Labor is needed to peel, slice, and prepare, all of which is done by hand.

The Jenschke Orchard in Fredericksburg is of a younger vintage than Gold’s but no less storied. Lindsey Jenschke’s father-in-law, Travis, founded the pick-your-own peach orchard in 1961. Lindsey and husband Barrett have since taken it over, opening a storefront in 2018 — for those who actually don’t want to pick their own. They also sell cobbler, preserves, and their own speciality: peach butter. 

This year’s crop has been slow coming in, Lindsey Jenschke said, but it looks as though it will be healthy and plentiful, despite the late, long, and hard freeze in mid-February. 

“We were lucky. When the freeze came, our trees were not in bloom,” she said. “We did not lose any peaches. There has been about a three-week delay on the blooms, but they did come out slowly but surely.”

Both orchards — one in Stonewall and one in Fredericksburg — claim to have the best peaches, but when asked for the difference between the two, the answer was “15 miles.” 

“That’s the difference,” Priess said. “They are a bit further west.” 

All three peach professionals profess a preference for how best to eat a peach: right off the tree, still warm from the sun. 

“You pull it, rub the fuzz off on your shirt, and you take a big bite and let the juice run down your arm,” said Robertson, her answer almost identical to those of Priess and Jenschke when asked the same question. 

As for what makes the perfect peach, their answers echoed that of Bobby Manning, who has been growing peaches at Longhorn Organic Farms near Burnet for 30 years. 

“Peaches have to have a certain amount of chilling hours — temperatures below 45 degrees,” he said. “In this area, you need 600 to 800 chilling hours.” 

Manning’s peaches, which are mostly picked and eaten by Camp Longhorn campers, are planted by varieties of four rows each, all designed to ripen one right after the other throughout the summer. The first variety is expected around June 15.

Another orchard near Marble Falls, which was once a pick-your-own, now occasionally sells peaches depending on the year’s output. Peach Valley Orchards in Round Mountain is now Peach Valley RV and Storage, owned by Ursula and Harry Mueller. 

“In the front, we still have peaches,” Ursula Mueller said. “When they are ripe, we sell a few. We have a small roadside stand. Our focus is really on the RV Park, not the peaches.” 

At this time of year, the focus in Fredericksburg and Stonewall is ALL on the peaches. Peach growers are more than prepared for a large flock of fruit fans this month when the JAMboree kicks off the freestone season.

“I’m looking forward to seeing all the people coming by the stand after the parade, talking about how they saw some of our peaches that won in the show,” Priess said. “And seeing them line up for ice cream. People come with coolers to pack it up so they have it throughout the year.” 

Peaches in particular are the real speciality of the area, and they are rarely found on roadside stands in and around Austin or San Antonio, the growers agreed.

“Ask them which orchard they came from,” Jenschke said. “Most won’t be able to tell you. It’s best just to make a trip out here. The only way to know you’re getting a real Fredericksburg or Stonewall peach is to come here and get them.” 

For a list of orchards, visit texaspeaches.com. For details and a schedule for the Peach JAMboree, visit stonewalltexas.com

TALE OF TEXAS PEACHES

  • Peaches are the top deciduous fruit crop in Texas with an estimated 1 million trees planted statewide, only half of which are in commercial orchards.
  • Texas is the ninth-largest producer of peaches in the United States.
  • Peaches made their way to Texas from China through Persia to Rome, Spain, France, and then North America, landing first in Virginia in the early 17th century. 
  • Peach orchards in Stonewall and Fredericksburg have put Gillespie County on the map as the top peach-producing area in the Lone Star State. Tyler comes in second. 

suzanne@thepicayune.com