In good taste

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This month I tried an unusual taste test with Palisade peaches. With quantities limited by the late spring freeze, peaches grown in Palisade, Colo., are at a premium this year. So I wanted to maximize the flavor for each one. My test compared the taste for the same Palisade peach under a variety of purchase conditions.

The test came about because my mom was surprised by the flavor of the Palisade peaches she bought at her local Target store. Also, with a recent Salmonella outbreak linked to Washington peaches packaged in clear plastic bags, I thought peach purchase procedures merited some review. Here’s the results:

The first test was to reproduce my mother’s experience. I went to her local Target store and selected a half dozen Palisade peaches from the prominent and well-marked display at the front of the store. I selected the peaches and placed them in a clear plastic bag. I was able to buy the other items on my list: shampoo, socks, dental floss, and yogurt. The peach purchase put a SNAFU in my self-check-out experience when the sticker on the peach would not scan and I entered the wrong item number. After a helpful clerk cleared up the problem, I put the plastic bag of peaches in another plastic bag and paid the $1.99/ lb. price with a plastic card. After mauling each peach trying to remove the plastic item number sticker, would it be a surprise to learn that the taste of this peach had a residue of plastic?

The second contestant was found by the side of the road at a stand advertising Palisade peaches and Olathe corn. After making not the safest swerve out of traffic, I parked and grabbed my own fabric shopping bag. I chatted with the purveyor of peaches and corn to learn that, no, they were not the grower but a big-city branch of the extended family owning the peach orchard whose part-time job was running this farm stand. They confirmed that Palisade peaches were in short supply, but the grower was giving priority to retail sales and they would have a steady supply all season. I was offered a sample of the peach in a paper cup and could buy a full box (20 lbs. for $55), a half box (10 lbs. for $30), or a bowl for $10. I bought a bowl of peaches and six ears of corn, paying with paper (though plastic was an option), and placed them in my fabric bag. Later, my tasting of fresh peaches and roasted corn was certainly sweet, without residue of plastic, but something was missing.

The last stop was the Boulder farmers market where Palisade peaches were offered at the premium price of $4/lb. with full color photos of the orchard and video of peaches being lovingly pulled from the trees. I was able to chat with a knowledgeable peach sommelier who recommended a peach variety suitable for grilling and one for eating fresh. He selected the peaches and placed them in a biodegradable bag. I paid with plastic as I didn’t have enough cash. The grilled peaches tasted amazing and a little exotic. The whole cooking and eating experience was tinged with an air of exclusivity because the peaches were recommended by an expert. It was technically delicious but was not the celebration of peachy-ness that I was looking for.

In the end, the best peach I ate this season was a bird-pecked smallish fruit fresh off my own tree. Not a surprise ending, I know, and technically not part of the Palisade peach taste test. But there is something deliciously satisfying about eating a sun-warmed peach and having the juice gush down your chin. I think Americans have made a devil’s bargain and sold the soul of taste for the price of convenience. Taste involves all your senses. Plastic packaging interferes with the taste buds in your fingertips. A good origin story is an unparalleled flavor enhancer.

The current pandemic has unbalanced the devil’s bargain of convenience by adding public safety into the equation. Shopping behind a face mask isn’t fun for anybody. But we deserve the reward of great taste and enjoyment from the food we work so hard to purchase or grow. Let’s celebrate taste this harvest. Take the time to inconveniently maximize your food interactions and pay attention to how you purchase and prepare each peach. It’s worth it!

Carolyn Dunmire is an award-winning writer who gardens and cooks in Cahone, Colo.

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From Carolyn Dunmire.