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A sweet reputation: ′Chambersburg′ peaches at their peak

Roadside stands around Pittsburgh brag about having "Chambersburg peaches," but the only way to take home peaches grown in Chambersburg is to visit an area just west of the county seat of Franklin County. Peach season is at its peak this week and next.

Just two orchards with Chambersburg addresses still grow peaches, and they don't ship, according to Wilma Mickey, author of a book about 100 years of fruit growing in Franklin County. Mickey's family orchard, Shatzer's Orchard on Lincoln Way West, and an orchard near Fort McCord, owned by Ken Friese, grow peaches for their stands.

Chambersburg peaches are not a variety, like red haven or loring. The name has come to mean quality. "We put it on our sign," Mickey said. "People say: We want to take the peaches back with us. They say our peaches are so good. People still want Chambersburg peaches. It's been a tradition for close to 75 years."

Thousands of acres west from Chambersburg to Tuscarora Mountain were once orchards. Growers like W.O. Bingham, Mickey's great-uncle, sent peaches to Pittsburgh.

"Chambersburg once produced more peaches than it does now, and earned a reputation for producing high quality peaches," said Tara Baugher, tree fruit educator with the Penn State Cooperative Extension Service. "Growers tend to utilize the name 'Chambersburg peach' because it signifies high quality."

The micro-climate, soil and slopes in the Chambersburg area have been conducive to quality peaches, according to Baugher. Roadside stands in western Pennsylvania may advertise Chambersburg peaches, but they buy from brokers who may send them peaches from West Virginia or somewhere else in Franklin County, Mickey said.

"People believe it until they come and see there aren't many orchards around Chambersburg, then they have doubts," Mickey said.

Today fewer than 700 acres are planted in peaches across Franklin County, less than a third of the acreage from 1974. Franklin County, the top peach producer in Pennsylvania 50 years ago, is now second to neighboring Adams County.

A recent storm has helped to size-up peaches, but such storms have been spotty. The region needs more than 4 inches of rainfall to emerge from drought conditions, according to the U.S. Geological Survey.

Most growers grow several varieties of peaches. "The shelf life is shorter than that of an apple," Baugher said. "Growers plant enough varieties to span the season from mid-July to the end of August."

Some growers, like Mickey, plan to have even later peaches. "You want to get whatever is in season," Baugher said. "They all have excellent flavor. Most peaches are suitable for freezing or for fresh fruit." Recently introduced "sub-acid" white peaches produce a fruit that is low in acid, she said.


Publication date: 8/15/2007


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