The following review is out in this month's issue of Times Publications, but if you're like me and live in the middle of nowhere, you might not have caught it, so I wanted to share here. The peach picking has concluded, but go grab some apples, plums, and veggies.
In our family, we don’t make strawberry shortcake. We make peach shortcake.
Well, by “we,” I mostly mean my mother. But it’s so good that I -- who normally considers boiling pasta to be “preparing” food -- took it up a few years ago. My husband and son have been dropping unsubtle reminders to make the dessert again.
Fortunately for me and my peach-loving family I can go to Schnepf Farms, in Queen Creek, to get locally grown peaches.
The farm combines agriculture with education and entertainment. They call it “agri-tourism,” or “agri-tainment.” Whatever you call it, kids love it.
My son, David, and I visited Schnepf Farms this month, and we’re certain to go back soon. In fact, he was asking to revisit before we’d pulled out of the place.
The farm, celebrating its 70th anniversary this year, is currently owned and run by Mark and Carrie Schnepf, both themselves from long lines of Arizona farmers. The land was purchased by Mark’s grandfather and has been passed down in the family ever since. He hopes to pass it on to his own children.
If my own son’s enthrallment at the farm is any indication, his kids should be thrilled to call the place their own.
We headed straight to the peach orchards, and before I’d gotten my bearings, David had grabbed a bag and rushed off to the nearest tree.
The fruit came right off the branches and was easily accessible. The trees are all kept trimmed so the peaches are within easy reach without ladders.
The thing to look for, according to Mark Schnepf, is color. Peaches that are ripe for picking will have rich golds and spots of deep red. They’re a little soft -- they’re supposed to be -- so don’t squeeze too hard. (I discovered this firsthand as David got a little too zealous and showered me in peach juice.)
The orchards boast six different varieties of peaches, which all ripen at different times starting in May. This day, Florida prince peaches were ready for picking. They’re small peaches, but sweet and juicy, and are said to be ideal for making desserts. Since the organic farm uses no pesticides (and hasn’t for 45 years), the fruit is safe to eat straight from the tree, but we resisted.
In addition to the peaches and apricots the farm offers this time of year, you can head to their U-Pick garden for vegetables. David got a close look at the squash and zucchini, just starting to develop from the blossoms; and we checked out Romaine lettuce, leaf lettuce, baby turnips, Swiss chard, kale, green onions, carrots, and more. Beside the vegetables we found a field of sunflowers and purple larkspur flowers that just begged for ogling and photos.
Peach picking goes into the first week in June, and then tapers off and they offer Ana apples and melons for fruit picking, and their vegetables include okra, beets, turnips, pickling cucumbers, radishes, summer squash, sweet onions, potatoes, sweet corn, green beans, zucchini, green onions, and carrots.
Save some time, because after you’re done picking fruit and veggies and strolling through the flowers, Schnepf Farms offers a petting zoo and a train ride. During festivals, they run a carousel ride (the oldest operating carousel in the state), a “flying farmers” ride, a giant mountain slide, hay rides, and more. David lingered in the petting zoo, quickly bonding with an assertively affectionate pygmy goat and practically refusing to leave when the young goats began to suckle from their mothers.
The farm is free to enter, and a couple of dollars will get you into the various attractions.
Peaches and apricots are available for picking $1.90 per pound. If you don't want to pick your own (though that’s half the fun), you can buy fruit for $2.50 per pound at the farm’s Country Store. The store also offers countless other goodies. Try their famous peachy cinnamon rolls.
Schnepf Farms has shifted its focus in recent years, remaining an active farm but concentrating on inspiring people to reconnect with Arizona‘s agricultural heritage and to make memories.
We made our memories. And now, I’m told, I’m required to make shortcake.
Epilogue: I made it. We gorged on it. Definitely going to be a tradition.
Schnepf Farms is open Thursday through Sunday, from 8 a.m. to 4 p.m. (Peach picking starts at 7:30.) For more information, visit www.schnepffarms.com or call (480) 987-3100.