Food & drink Just peachy

As orchards ripen, it's a fine time to visit the Hill Country

Ripe peaches are one of the great pleasures of summer. Heavy and fragrant, they can be baked into pies, preserved in jam, roasted on the grill, or enjoyed whole, each bite so sweet and texturally perfect you hardly notice the sticky juice dripping down your hands and face.

Kendall and Gillespie counties will soon be flooded with tourists eager to taste peaches from the orchards surrounding Stonewall and Fredericksburg. According to the Hill Country Fruit Council, the soil gives local peaches their famous flavor. The combination of minerals and micronutrients "makes the flavor content more complex. The diurnal (day to night) temperature variation ... in the Hill Country helps to make the sweet flavors more intense."

Lori Studebaker proudly displays a flat of Harvester peaches, which grow on the trees in her 35-acre farm in Blumenthal, about five miles west of Stonewall, 10 miles east of Fredericksburg. The Studebaker roadside stand is among many that will offer Texas Hill Country peaches this time of year. (Photo by Michael Cary)

During peach season, May through September, fruit ripens in the orchards that line Highway 290 and rural routes. Last week, it was still a little too early for peaches at many of the roadside stands operated by local peach growers, but as this is a story about getting away from it all, the miles traveled in search of a perfectly ripe peach were not in vain.

As luck would have it, a "little farm in Blumenthal," operated by Valley natives Lori and Russell Studebaker, grows about 25 varieties of peaches and is open, selling fruit that is picked fresh every morning from their 35-acre orchard.

"Everyone will be in full swing next week," Lori says. "We had some hailstorms, and a late freeze, and some varieties are not as abundant." While the Harvesters were a bit unripe, Lori Studebaker was bagging up Dixie Reds for un-weary travelers who stopped by for a chat about locally grown produce. The Studebakers also grow blackberries, plums, tomatoes, squash, and, of course, their children.

The Studebakers operate one of the few remaining simple fruit and vegetable stands in the area, besides the larger one operated by the Vogel orchard closer to Stonewall.

Blumenthal is located almost midway between Stonewall and Fredericksburg. Studebaker says it used to be a happening place, with a dry goods store and the necessary saloon, but today it consists mostly of the Studebaker Farm and a bed and breakfast. She grew up on a cotton farm near Harlingen and is painfully aware of the work that goes into career farming, but nonetheless she went along with her husband when he wanted to buy the peach orchard. Considering the Hill Country's long peach heritage, Studebaker says that after 13 years, "We're relative newcomers to the peaches market."

Studebaker Farm

5 miles west of Stonewall
on Hwy 290 at Blumenthal

(830) 990-1109
8:30am-6pm every day
She says someone from Ireland visited the orchard a couple of weeks ago and was thrilled to just walk into the orchard and pick peaches from a tree.

Last week, the Dixie Reds came in baskets ranging in price from $4-12. Later in the season, flats of the large Harvester peaches will be available for $13-15. The Hill Country Fruit Council publishes a peach guide, available at some fruit stands, complete with a map, ripening dates for 13 varieties, and recipes for peachy-pineapple smoothies and peach refrigerator jam. If you have a recipe, give it to Studebaker and if it is good enough she might write it down.

But this story is also about getting away from the stifling atmosphere of municipal elections. Therefore, it was hard to resist the urge to stop in at the general store and beer joint in Luckenbach for a cold beer before returning via another ranch road that follows the river to Blanco, and then south to San Antonio to cover the mayor's race.

By Michael Cary

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