Be patient, peach lovers. No matter how you like them Grandma's peach pie, peaches and cream, homemade peach ice cream, peach cobbler, peach bellinis, peaches sliced for freezing or halved for canning the juicy fruits are finally coming on strong and are, for the most part, just peachy.
Tricky fall temperatures that were too warm or too cold, and a cool and soggy spring combined to put the harvest about three weeks behind schedule. But there will soon be plenty of peaches.
"We're encouraging people who are canning, 'Don't get too excited. It's going to be a little bit later but it's coming!' " said Robert McMullen, of McMullen Orchards in Payson.
About three to four weeks later, to be exact. Utah fruit growers have harvested only about a quarter of the peach crop; by now, farmers have typically picked just over 40 percent of their peaches.
"The early stuff was a lot later and the later stuff is about on time," said Scott Smith, who grows 26 peach varieties at Smith Orchards at the mouth of Provo Canyon. "It's kind of like a traffic jam."
Consider the Redhaven, which Smith calls the "meridian" of the peach season.
"It's normally a first of August peach," Smith said of the Redhaven, which he typically finishes picking by the end of that month. This year, Smith expects to wrap up the Redhaven harvest next week; his Redhavens, which earned him a "Best Exhibit in Agriculture" at the 2010 Utah State Fair, have been hammered by the heat and are "nowhere near the quality we've had on them."
No matter, as the other varieties Smith grows are doing fine, including the Lemon Elbertas, beloved by home canners, which he expects to be ready in about two weeks.
McMullen gives the same report: "The fruit is great, it looks wonderful."
Both farmers said they don't expect to finish harvesting peaches until mid- to late October, about two weeks later than normal.
Joel Gentillion, a statistician with the U.S. Department of Agriculture's Utah field office, said farmers expect to collect fewer peaches, too about 3,400 tons, down from 4,300 last year. But harvests vary from year-to-year, and McMullen says there shouldn't be any shortage of peaches locally. He's adjusting, for example, by not shipping as many peaches out of state.
On Saturday, baskets and boxes of Redhavens, Early White Giants and White Lady peaches went fast at Smith's booth at the Downtown Farmers Market in Salt Lake City. He'd sold out by 11 a.m.
The delayed season didn't put a damper at all on the 13th Annual Peach Days festivities in Hurricane this weekend. Today's celebration is more about the city's heritage than helping farmers sell the stone fruit, said Jarolyn Stout, a member of the Peach Days executive board.
Hurricane was settled in 1906, and soon after was planted with peach orchards, which helped it earn a reputation as the "fruit basket of southern Utah." The community hosted its first Elberta Days in 1909. The celebration evolved into Peach Days and then became the Washington County Fair, until that event moved to the county fairgrounds. Residents brought back Peach Days in 1999. "We missed the old small-town celebration," Stout said.
Today, many of the orchards Stout remembers from her childhood are gone, "etched out" by growth and development. And this year's fest didn't feature any peach vendors, she said.
"Now people just sell them through their own thing, they are marketing them a different way," Stout said.
There's still a peach cook-off, though.
Missed Hurricane's hailing of the peach? No problem. Next weekend, the stone fruit gets a star turn in Brigham City, which began celebrating "the best peaches in Utah" 107 years ago, making its festival the "longest continually celebrated harvest festival" in the state and second oldest in the country.
About 75,000 spectators are expected to take in the city's pageant, parade, carnival, custom car show, concerts and, yes, fruit displays.