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Article

The Ripest Fruit, The Biggest Flavor

Fine Cooking Issue 45
Photos: Amy Albert
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“Farmer Al” Courchesne, owner of Frog Hollow Farm in Contra Costa County, California, was raised a city boy. So when he turned to peach farming, there was a lot he didn’t know—including the fact that commercially grown stone fruit is often harvested underripe in order to withstand shipping and storage.

But naïveté paid off, and flavor prevailed. Al picked and sold only ripe fruit, and 25 years later, Frog Hollow Farm is Certified Organic, with a reputation for some of the best-tasting varieties of peaches, apricots, plums, nectarines, and cherries anywhere. Large-scale farmers usually harvest at about 12° brix (a measure of sugar content), but Al picks his peaches at 17° to 18°. “I like to say that it just about exceeds the human threshold for pleasure,” he says with a mischievous smile.

While Al markets the fruit, his partner Becky Smith transforms Frog Hollow’s peaches, apricots, and nectarines into deeply flavorful preserves. As to why her jams taste so good, Becky, a former pastry chef, explains that she cooks the fruit in a shallow braiser (rather than in a deep kettle) for maximum evaporation in a short amount of cooking time. “And,” she adds, “I get to use our fruit, which has the best possible flavor and texture.”

Ripeness is read in a drop of juice. Al uses a refractometer to check the brix, or sugar content, of a Babcock white peach.
Jars of nectarine jam are filled one by one. Larger-scale producers might cook 300-pounds of fruit at a time and fill the jars by conveyor belt, but Frog Hollow preserves are made in 50-pound batches for more concentrated, tastier results.
This jar is brimming with ripe fruit flavor. Frog Hollow preserves contain just a touch of added sugar and no added pectin.
Becky Smith and Al Courchesne sample the latest batch of Frog Hollow Farm preserves.

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