It doesn't take very long to pick ten pounds of nectarines. In fact, it takes more effort ― self-control, really ― to pick less.
I'd been meaning to go peach and nectarine picking in Brentwood again ever since a scalding afternoon in 2005 that culminated in one perfect nectarine, plucked from the tree and still warm from the sun. I ate the fruit with a vampirish abandon, bent slightly over the ground, my lips and chin and hand and forearm soon sticky with juice.
So, on Saturday, some friends and I drove east again, using the Harvest Time in Brentwood map
to hunt for open U-pick farms. We were fortunate ― the season should be almost over by now, one of the farmers told me, but the cold spring pushed it back.
At Canciamilla Ranch (401 Eureka Road) we gleaned the last of the Independence nectarines I'd loved so much five years before, filling a small box. The cost: $1 a pound. McKinney Farms: A Peachy Place (25221 Marsh Creek Road) had rows upon rows of lush gold orchids and white peaches that we wandered up and down for a half-hour, baking in the sun and trying not to grab all the fruit around us. I'd been intending to stick to the yellow stone fruit, which are better for jams and tarts, but the white peaches there were so fat and heavy that I had to buy another five pounds. And while almost all of the U-pick farms are conventionally farmed, Farmer's
Daughter Produce (corner of Walnut and Marsh Creek Roads) advertised that its peach trees were spray-free, so I added another eight pounds to the stash in the trunk ($1.50 a pound if you buy 10 pounds or more, otherwise $1.75). Between the four of us, we picked enough fruit to fill the car with the smell of ripe fruit.
It's not the smartest idea to pick fruit off the tree at the peak of its ripeness ― the white peaches, for example, bruised so easily and thoroughly that I had to eat them all in the 24 hours after I returned. The past two days, in fact, has been an exercise in excess: Peaches for breakfast, nectarines for lunch, a peach frangipane tart for friends, 10 pounds still ripening on the table for jam.
On August 15, Bay
Area Green Tours is organizing a brunch at Berkeley's Gather restaurant followed
by a bus tour of Brentwood's most celebrated farms, Frog Hollow
and Knoll. But if you'd rather pick peaches yourself, there are still a few weeks left in the season. Bring a few boxes, a bottle of water, and all the self-restraint you can muster.