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Peach Prices

Peaches are my favourite seasonal Ontario fruit. Lifetime, I’ve probably downed about 500 Ontario peaches for every one I’ve had from elsewhere. Luckily, the season lasts a relatively long six weeks between mid-August and the last days of summer in September.

I can understand not paying much attention to the price of a basket of peaches if you buy a few of them a couple weeks apart. This year, I bought a bushel and a half  of peaches for a group of us who canned them, so my radar for a good peach deal is, I think, more finely tuned than usual.

A flat of peaches from Longo's.

A flat of peaches from Longo's.

But let’s deal with quantities before we talk prices. The most recognisable container for peaches is the 3 L basket. At one time they were all made of cardboard and had the green handles with the Foodland Ontario logo but now also come in an annoying clear plastic version. Depending on a bunch of variables the peaches in each 3 L basket have a total weight between 3 lbs 8 oz and 4 lbs 8 oz, so we’ll call it an even four pounds. Major grocery stores like to pretend that it is a special, sale price but $4 a basket seems standard at Metro, Loblaws, and Longo’s. That’s $1 per pound.

The recognisable Fruit Shack sign on Niagara Stone Road.

The recognisable Fruit Shack sign on Niagara Stone Road.

Recently, I was in Niagara and picked up a bushel of Canada No. 1′s for $40 from the Fruit Shack outside of Niagara-on-the-Lake. (The No. 2′s have blemishes but are presumably just as good for canning but word has spread and there is a waiting list for these.) Forty pounds in a bushel so the price here is also $1 a pound.

Half of the peaches from the Fruit Shack.

Half of the peaches from the Fruit Shack.

Here’s a surprising angle for you: Picking your own peaches comes at a remarkable premium. At one place I called the price was $1.29 a pound. Obviously part of the reason for the premium is that those picking are likely to eat some of the product but if I go to the effort I’m going to want to get forty pounds or so and even a die-hard peach nut like me would be hard-pressed to gobble twelve pounds of peaches to make up for the price difference. In other words, you’re paying them to pick their peaches.

Farmers’ markets are also an option. Prices for 3L baskets at North York Farmers’ Market have ranged between $5 and $7. Prices seem to have settled at the high end of that range at about seven bucks. A recent basket weighed in at an impressive 5 lbs 14 oz and that means that the peaches worked out to about $1.20 a pound.

The two peaches on the left were from Longo's, the ones on the right from the Fruit Shack.

The two peaches on the left were from Longo's, the ones on the right from the Fruit Shack.

Price isn’t the only consideration in this discussion. I did a comparison of the peaches from the Fruit Shack against ones from Longo’s (pictured above). In both cases I closed my eyes, reached a hand into each of the boxes, and pulled out two specimens. Not especially scientific as far as randomness goes, but I think fairly representative.

The Fruit Shack peaches were amazing. Medium-large in size, almost  all ripe enough to eat right away and they stayed that way for nearly a week. The ones from Longo’s were more disappointing. As you can see from the photo some of those peaches still had a bit of green in their skins and as Jeffrey Steingarten notes in his essay “Ripeness is All” this means that they were picked before they were fully mature and peaches picked at that point will never ripen properly. Some did get noticeably better after a week but two days after purchase the majority were barely edible and very difficult to peel for canning.

In the farmers’ market case you pay a premium but tend to get peaches that have come closer to ripening on the tree. The downside is that sometimes they can grow to a daunting ten to twelve ounces (almost 3/4 of a pound) and probably more than what some consider a proper serving. There are also a great variety of peaches at the market. Once into freestone season you’re likely to only find Redhavens at the grocery store but my most recent market basket, for instance, were Lorings.

So, what’s the best strategy? If you’re going to Niagara (or know someone who is) during the middle three weeks of peach season pick up as many as you think you can eat or preserve in about a week from one of the vendors that sell by the bushel. Failing that, I’d buy selectively at markets throughout the season. Look for prices at $6 or below and make sure you’re buying from a vendor who is selling his own product and not reselling the same peaches you’d find in the grocery store.

During the ten days that Redhavens are at their peak I think it’s safe to switch to the grocery store. But, remove the tops from those plastic peach coffins and investigate. As Steingarten says, ignore the reddish bloom on the top of the peaches and pay attention to finding ones that have an even, yellow-orange base colour to their skins. They should smell fragrantly of ripe peaches and if some barely yield to gentle pressure, all the better.

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One Comment

  1. [...] these so will reserve final comment on whether they come back. Biggest lesson learned was that quality peaches that are tree-ripened are a breeze to peel. Others are the opposite. Next year: [...]

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