Friday, July 22, 2016

Food Tourism: Andy's Orchard

For many years, my sister-in-law has sung the praises of Andy's Orchard. And for many years, I haven't made the hour plus trip down to Morgan Hill. That was a mistake. Andy's Orchard grows over 100 varieties of stone fruit (they list 128 varieties of peaches, plums, apricots, nectarines, and cherries on their website) which they harvest fully tree ripened. The fruit is delicious and the variety is amazing. Andy's Orchard is worth the trip--I can't believe it took us this long to make it.

The day we visited, Andy's was holding tastings and tours (they hold 1 to 2 per month in the summer) and we tried at least 100 varieties of stone fruit, saw their stone fruit drying operation, and toured their orchards all while picking our own tree ripened fruit. It was grand.

Andy's Orchard has been around for X years and prides itself not only tree ripened fruit but also unusual and rare stone fruit. All of the fruit was amazing, but 6 were my favorite.

Raspberry Red Nectarine was my favorite of all. It tastes slightly of raspberries and melts in your mouth--of all the varieties I tried, this was the one I wanted to grow. Now, I just need to find the room in our garden. I found out later it's a hybrid of a white nectarine crossed with an Indian blood peach (my favorite peach, incidentally) and back crossed back with a white nectarine. Seek this fruit out during your visit.

Galaxy peach is a doughnut peach with excellent sugar/acid balance and intense flavor. We were able to pick this during the orchard tour. Bonny Royal Apricot is the true royal of apricots--I'd been a fan of blenheims until I tried this one. Wow. It's amazing. Nevada Queen Nectarine has a wonderful texture while June Peach Party has a great, tangy, peach flavor.

I was full around 70 samples, made it through 100, only to realize there was another barn full of even more fruit to try. Lesson learned for next time: Come hungry and pace yourself. After tasting one hundred plus samples, it was time for a tour.

First on our tour, we were brought to the fruit drying area. Andy's is known for its dried apricots, but they also dry peaches and nectarines. They use a traditional sulphur method (it dates back to Roman times) which allows Andy to not have to dry the fruit to leather, saving fruit juice moisture, nutrition, and color. After the fruit is sulfured, the fruit is than laid on wooden drying wracks (these have been in use for over 100 years!) and left to dry in the sun for up to a week.

As a deep lover of dried apricots, seeing this sea of drying fruit was a brief slice of heaven. And I must say, as a taster of many a dried apricot, Andy's are my favorite.

Some of the apricots are so juicy with sugar that, in the sun, they melt down into slabs. These, to me, are the choice dried apricots. They melt in your mouth and make any fruit leather out there seem almost tasteless.

After showing us the fruit drying area, our tour guide brought us to the peach and nectarine orchards. He demonstrated how to properly pick tree ripened fruit: Not all the fruit on the tree ripens at the same time, so before pulling fruit from the tree, give the fruit a twist with the wrists. If the whole branch the fruit is on shakes, it's not ripe, but if just the fruit moves, you got yourself a winner. And if when you twist the fruit in your hand, the fruit skin gives and the fruit pops off, you have to eat the fruit in the orchard--that fruit won't make it home in one piece.

And then we got to pick tree ripened stone fruit to our hearts' content. It was glorious and delicious.

Why go

Andy's orchard grows unusual varieties of peaches, plums, apricots, nectarines, and cherries as well as crosses of stone fruit such as apricots and pluots. They pride themselves on delicious tree-ripened fruit, and their fruit is some of the best I've ever tasted. They also dry their fruit that will make a fruit rollup green with jealousy. 

In short: Andy's is the place to eat and try delicious, tree ripened stone fruit in unusual varieties and take home dried fruit (especially the slab apricots).

When to go

Any time, but the best time to go is in the summer during one of the tour days; there is one tour & tasting remaining this summer on August 6th.

What to expect

The tasting starts at 10 am; for around an hour, you will go table to table, noshing different fruit slices--come hungry and prepared to fill up on stone fruit. Each station is labeled with the variety you're eating, a description, and a bowl of bites to try.

Around 11 am, tour guides will begin guiding groups through the orchards; you can bring baskets into the orchards to pick your own and guides will teach you how to properly pick ripe fruit from the trees. Depending on who your tour guide is and which route they take, you may see more nectarines and peaches than pluots and apricots, and you may or may not see the sea of drying fruit. Also, depending on what date in the summer you visit the orchard, some fruit varieties may be on the tour while others won't be. For example, cherries and apricots tend to ripen earlier in the summer while peaches and nectarines ripen later. You will likely be able to try many more fruit during the tasting than you will be able to pick. 

After your tour, your fruit will be weighed and you can visit the farm store; in here, you will a selection of even more stone fruit (also a much more limited selection than what you tried during the tasting) and Andy's Orchard dried fruits to suit your hearts desire. Again, I can't recommend the apricot slabs more highly--they are the bees knees. 

The whole event takes about two hours.

How to prepare

Buy tickets to attend via Andy's website; plan to arrive by 10, but if you hit traffic--we did--you will still be able to test to your heart's content and go on a thorough tour. 

Not to miss

As you likely gathered, I loved the Raspberry Red nectarine--make sure to nosh that. I also think the Bonny Royal apricot is a not to miss as well as those wonderful fruit drying flats and dried apricot slabs at the store. 

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