The O'Henry is to peaches what the Gravenstein is to apples, at least when comparing the elusive qualities of flavor and nostalgia. Although where the Gravensteins signal the start of apple season, O'Henrys are the heralds of the end of peach season. And after the weeks of oppressively hot weather we've endured, seeing O'Henrys is a welcome sign of cooler days to come. Too bad the trees need that heat to produce some of the finest, firmest and fleshiest peaches in California.
August and September are the prime months to enjoy O'Henrys. Locally both K&K Ranch and Tenerelli Orchards are revealing show-worthy, full harvests this year (last year's were decimated by a late frost at both farms). Blushed on the outside with a firey sunset red and a nearly turmeric yellow within, the O'Henry tastes of creamy vanilla with a perky acidic tang. Firm flesh permits both cooking and freezing without losing any character (Diep Tran at Good Girl Dinette has been plunking them into pies all month.)
If you hold a ripe O'Henry with both hands, seam facing you, press lightly with your thumbs and gently easy the married halves apart. The pit — charmingly called a freestone this time of year — gives way. Sure you could grill it, scoop some ricotta into the center, and drizzle with honey, but you'd be gilding the lily. Just eat it straight. Or if you must, add a little salt to counterpoint the sweet juice.
Grant Merrill, the Luther Burbank of the peach world, is the grower responsible for the O'Henry. Introduced in 1968, the O'Henry became a quick favorite for its flavor, size, color and staying power. And unlike the Elberta, another preferred heirloom peach, the O'Henry was slow to soften, lengthening its shelf life and travel ability.
Over 40 years later, the O'Henry is still grown prolifically in California (our weather suits it perfectly) and is used as the parent tree in a number of newer varieties. Augustprince, another juicy, red, late season peach, claims the O'Henry as a grandparent. Tenerelli and K&K both have great harvests this year, but you'll find a lot of farmers like to grow it. It's painless to maintain and yields reliably every season — assuming it doesn't get blasted by a freeze.
Check our interactive farmer's market map for the market near you.
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