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A shortage has been predicted for Southern peaches this summer, but those who showed up to buy 25-pound boxes from The Peach Truck Sunday didn’t need to think about it.
The sky was the limit when it came to the number of boxes of tree-ripe peaches they could buy. One person bought 13 boxes when the truck pulled into Rollier Hardware stop in Mt. Lebanon. Each box contained about 50 fruits from Pearson Farm, near Fort Valley, Ga., and sold for $40.
“We hate to limit,” said Rick Haley, director of The Peach Truck Tour, who drove up with two tractor-trailers full of peaches and made stops at six locally owned hardware stores and garden centers in Western Pennsylvania.
People started lining up before 8 a.m. in front of the Mt. Lebanon store and bought 978 boxes in two hours. Mr. Haley said that sales were just as brisk at Bedner’s Farm & Greenhouse in McDonald, Zone 28 in Harmar, Ambridge Do It Best in Ambridge, Tractor Supply in Natrona Heights, and Fun Fore All in Cranberry.
“We didn’t think we would sell out as fast as we did,” he said, adding the truck tour had no idea of how big or small the turnout was going to be and so it brought enough peaches for modest year-over-year growth.
The fruits were plucked 48 hours prior to making the ride north and were slightly firm “so that they can travel well,” he said. To ripen, they could just be left in the box, he added. But if people had their own method of ripening the stone fruits “like putting them in a brown bag or leaving them on the counter facing north or placing them on the back of a poodle, I’m not going to discourage them,” he said, laughing.
Mr. Haley insisted only on one thing — do not put the peaches in the refrigerator before they are conditioned or soft.
He suggested to check on the peaches every day to see if they are conditioned. “Give them a slight squeeze. If they give a little it means they are ready to be consumed,” he said.
Pearson Farm lost 90 percent of its peach crop earlier this year. The unseasonable warm winter took down 65 percent of it, and then the subsequent sudden frost bite took out the rest, Mr. Haley said. This meant there would be early peaches from the South but the supply would stop by mid-July, when the fruits are said to taste their best.
This also meant that only cling peaches (the fruit tends to stick to the pit and is best for eating and not so much for canning) made it on the trip and not the freestone ones (the fruit easily separates from the pit and is good for eating, canning and freezing).
The crop devastation dictated a change in the timing and number of trips by The Peach Truck, as well. Last year, it came in late June and returned for a second trip three weeks later. This year, it is not going to make another trip back north.
But there was one pleasant surprise in all the peach gloom. The Peach Truck upped its price by only $1; last year the boxes sold for $39.
Arthi Subramaniam: firstname.lastname@example.org, 412-263-1494 or on Twitter @arthisub.