If any fruit sums up summer, it’s a juicy peach. And in the world of peaches, you can’t do better than a ripe one from the Masumoto Family Farm in Del Ray, California. The Masumotos have been growing peaches with organic, sustainable methods for four generations, and the tenderness they put into their work shows: Masumoto peaches are sought after by tops chefs and produce purveyors nationwide. The family—Marcy and David Mas Masumoto and their daughters Nikiko and Korio—has just published an ode to their lives’ work, The Perfect Peach, a cookbook dappled with stories about farm life and, of course, peaches. The Masumotos were kind enough to take a break from the harvest to answer a few questions about the book.
Books for Better Living: How are the peaches this year?
The Masumotos: Engaging as ever! This season has been early, the fruit has ripened sooner than this same time last year. The flavor of our first variety, Spring Lady, was phenomenal, the best we’ve ever tasted. The orchard is 27 years old and has hit it’s stride. The Spring Lady gave little bursts of acid on the tongue over a smooth, heavily scented base.
We’ve been struggling a bit to find homes for our “petite” peaches. One of our favorite varieties, the Gold Dust, whose flavor is like melting yellow sun and bakes beautifully, wasn’t very big this year. The flavor is the same beautiful burst of peach – yet the “market” dictates that these small peaches are less desirable. It breaks my heart that sometimes it’s not financially sustainable for us even to pick them. We are left with questions that haunt…what we can do better? Who will value our misfit peaches with fantastic flavor? Every season offers new lessons, buckets of peach juice, and challenges for next year. It’s a never-ending beautiful cycle.
BBL: What’s the best part about farming — and now writing a book — with your family?
Nikiko Masumoto: On those hot days, the days when our sweat soaks through every piece of clothing, when old tractors break and we’re late, when the fruit is too ripe, overripe, too small, under-ripe, scarred, when the prices are bad, this family teaches me the spirit of resilience. Farming challenges me in every way, mentally, physically, emotionally, spiritually. I don’t work with family because I have to, I work with family because I choose too — as if biological kinship is the least of our bonds — we “do” family. Family is not a status for us — it’s a daily practice of support, listening, and love. I learn the deepest lessons of perseverance, hard work, and soul power from these people. Writing this book was a way for me to work as a peer with my mom and dad. It was an experience that transformed the way I connect with them. They will forever be my mom and dad, the two people I admire most, the two people that inspire me most, and at the same time, I’ve been able to share something with them as equals. Writing together makes us better farmers together, and visa versa.
Plus, how awesome is it to talk about losing your peach virginity with your best friends: your parents!?!?
BBL: What’s the biggest challenge for small family farmers today?
MF: Because small family farms cannot compete with economies of size in huge agriculture, our challenge is to create our own path. For some it’s been farmer’s markets, others CSAs, and there are unlimited alternative models waiting to be invented. The challenge seems to be to find a way to turn being small into an asset — a way of keeping produce personal, for example, of telling stories about our closeness to the earth and food, of differentiating ourselves and accepting that money cannot be the sole driver behind what we do.
BBL: What’s your advice for someone who wants to grow peaches in their backyard?
MF: Think of long timelines. Growing peaches entails growing a relationship with a tree. The relationship requires maintenance, listening, and experimenting. Two biggest things many backyard peach growers miss: pruning and thinning.
BBL: Which peach recipe is the favorite for each of you?
Marcy: Favorite “traditional” recipe: Old-Fashioned Peach Pie; favorite new one: Shaking Beef
Mas: Summer Sangria
Nikiko: I only get one?!? Peach Gazpacho.
Korio: Peach-Lemongrass Granita