New stone fruits
Peaches were never enough. Neither were plums or apricots, so breeders went wild and created a wide range of hybrid stone fruits that nature couldn’t quite make on her own. Hundreds of these juicy transmogrifications come from Zaiger’s Genetics, a breeding company based in Modesto and whose creations include entirely new species—not varieties, but species—like the pluot, the Aprium, the Nectaplum and the Peacotum, each of which carries a registered trademark symbol next to its name, a subtle reminder that big business governs even the cheeriest of local farmers markets.
In Davis at the Wednesday and Saturday markets, Steve Smit of Mt. Moriah Farms will be offering roughly a dozen varieties of certified organic hybrid stone fruits through July. The Peacotum—a rare three-in-one fruit born not of genetic engineering but simply of careful pollen-to-pistil blending—is, as Smit says, “everything in your mouth at once—it’s a party.”
Of pluots, Smit is loaded, he says. He only grows 3 acres of pluots on his 37-acre orchard, but he plants 400 to 500 trees per acre, several times the density that many growers prefer to work with. The flavorosa—a jet-black, juicy pluot—has come and gone, but still to come are his flavor kings and crimson royales. The latter is a huge, football-shaped pluot sometimes more than 3 inches long, syrupy sweet and honeylike.
Such pluot perfection cannot be easily found beyond farmers markets on account of their tenderness. An unripe pluot, Smit explains, doesn’t ripen off the branch, and picked when too ripe, the delicate fruits simply can’t endure the bumps and bounces of long-distance transport. Handling them takes finesse, and big-scale commercial packers often just don’t have the time for these finicky fruits. The Spice Zee Nectaplum, a sweet and zesty fruit that ripens in July, is no less demanding.
“They have to be picked soft or you just can’t eat them,” Smit says.
A final note: Except the pluot, each of these stone-fruit hybrids is so new that Microsoft Word still underscores them in red. That, this writer predicts, will surely change.