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Peaches & Dreams

Originally Published in Trailer Life Magazine

Peaches — Yum! Who doesn’t love them? Ripe and delicious, they are best eaten at room
temperature. Just grab a large napkin, or use a shirt sleeve, and don’t worry about the
juice running down your chin as you bite into one of them. Originating in China about 4,000
years ago, peaches were once thought to confer immortality, and were the favored fruits of
emperors. Later, peaches became symbols of fertility and affection. Brides in China and
Japan often carry the blossoms in bridal bouquets, just as American brides traditionally
carry orange blossoms. Peaches moved from China to Persia, now known as Iran, along the old
Silk Road trading routes. Then the Greeks and Romans spread them throughout Europe and, in
the 16th and 17th centuries, the Spaniards brought them to North America. Today, peaches
are the second largest fruit crop in the United States, trailing only apples. Though we’re
quite sure they don’t offer immortality, they can certainly contribute to a healthy
lifestyle. An average peach carries a mere 35 calories, and they’re an excellent source of
Vitamins A, C and E and beta-carotene. They’re also rich in antioxidants, which may protect
human cells from the damage that leads to cancer. There is no better place to buy peaches
than at the farm where they’re grown, or at local roadside fruit stands. Those found in
grocery stores have often been picked too green and will never ripen into the rich, juicy
fruit we all love so well. The warm desert sun and cool nights of the Sulphur Springs
Valley near Willcox, Arizona, provide the perfect climate for some of the country’s
sweetest peaches, and each August, when the peaches are at their best, the little town of
Willcox celebrates the harvest with “Peach Mania,” a time when you can go out into the
orchards and pick your own fruit right off the trees. This celebration is all about food
and the tasty dishes made with peaches — so forget about dieting while attending. Besides,
you will have plenty of opportunities to work off a few calories as you tromp through the
orchard selecting the fruits that look the most appealing. Not much of the celebration
takes place in town. The action is all out at Apple Annie’s Orchard, located just a few
miles north of Willcox. Though Peach Mania is celebrated the entire month of August, the
most popular time to attend is usually the first weekend of the month, when arts and craft
vendors set up their colorful booths offering hand-crafted items and trinkets, and a
carnival atmosphere prevails. Take Interstate 10 to Willcox, exit 340. Turn west on Fort
Grand Road and continue 5.5 miles to the Apple Annie’s sign. Turn right and follow the
Apple Annie’s signs. You will travel a few miles on a dirt road, but there is plenty of
parking for RVs of all sizes if you don’t have a secondary vehicle with you. This orchard
is a family operation, and the family’s warmth and hospitality add to your day of food and
fun. Owned by John and Anne Holcomb, along with their two children, Matt and Mandy, Apple
Annie’s features tree-ripened apples, peaches and pears. The recent purchase of a nearby
vegetable farm allows them to offer a number of delicious vegetables such as sweet corn,
beans, tomatoes, squash and pumpkins, in addition to their famous fruits. By 6:30am, the
parking lot begins to fill with eager peach pickers anxious to get into the orchard before
the day heats up. By 10:30am, tour buses roll in and the crowd thickens. The Holcombs
estimate that about 25,000 people visit the farm over the course of the four weeks of Peach
Mania. Those who are hungry line up for a delicious pancake breakfast served with peaches
and homemade sausage. A tractor-drawn wagon ferrys people back and forth from the orchard,
where each person is given a bucket and a long pole with a basket on the end. Folks spread
out among the trees searching for the most delectable fruits they can find and, with each
peach weighing between 1?2 and 3?4 of a pound, it doesn’t take long to fill a bucket. There
are about 14 varieties of peaches at Apple Annie’s, all yellow-fleshed freestones, and
their prime harvest period varies throughout the month with a different variety ripening
each week. Asian pears and Gala apples are generally available during peach season, and you
may arrange to pick those also. Apple Annie’s uses natural methods of pest control as much
as possible, so you can rest assured that you are not buying produce drenched in
pesticides. Though 95 percent of the fruit raised here is sold on a you-pick-it basis,
previously picked fruit is available for those who choose not to venture out into the
orchard. Peach picking can be hungry work, so after you fill your buckets, head for the
burger barn for an apple-smoked burger; then move on over to the homemade peach ice-cream
stand. Still hungry, or want to take something home for later? Visit the Cider Press Bake
Shop and Fudge Factory, where the Holcomb family offers every type of homemade fudge
imaginable — as well as wonderful homemade breads and pies. A full-line of delectable
Amish cheeses from Ohio has recently been added to the farm’s product line. Upstairs from
the bakery, Apple Annie’s Attic offers even more tasty treats such as jams, jellies,
preserves and pickled vegetables. Several good cookbooks using the wonderful fruits and
vegetables grown on the farm are available. Annie also offers some tips for choosing and
handling your peaches. “When selecting peaches, take a good look at the part around the
stem. If you see a green area, the peaches were picked too early and will never ripen
properly. A creamy yellow tells you they should ripen to be rich and tasty. If they are not
fully ripe when you bring them home, you can ripen them in a paper bag and then, when ripe
enough, store them in the refrigerator for up to a week. For optimum taste, allow them to
come to room temperature before eating. Peaches bruise easily, so handle them carefully,
and store them in a single layer. Wash just before eating.” After talking with the
Holcombs, we couldn’t help but be impressed with their energy and dedication to hard work.
Their lives on the farm result from a choice to leave the average “workaday world” in a
larger city and spend long hours toiling to support themselves in their own business in a
quiet corner of the country. Even though neither of them knew a thing about farming — and
they admit to making every possible mistake while getting started — they seem to have
found their niche doing something they love, and also providing the public with a wonderful
opportunity to enjoy the “fruits” of their labor. Though they hire a few people, most of
the farming and preparation of the delicious food products is done by Holcomb family
members. They host a number of events throughout the harvest season to sell their products,
and most of it is sold right on the farm. This, too, is a specific choice, as the family
enjoys the social aspect of meeting and selling directly to the consumer. It also allows
them to make a living at a time when it is so difficult for the small farmer to make a
profit selling commercially to food stores. Once you taste these delicious farm-fresh
fruits and vegetables you will gain a whole new appreciation for produce consumed at its
freshest. After spending the early portion of your day at Apple Annie’s, return to Willcox
and explore the quiet streets of this slow-paced little town built originally to service
the large cattle ranches and mines that filled the area in the 19th and 20th centuries.
Outlaws no longer walk the streets with six-guns on their hips, but the old buildings along
Railroad Street are a definite reminder of the town’s more colorful past. The Rex Allen
Museum and Cowboy Hall of Fame house many colorful costumes and instruments used by the
singing cowboy, who was a Willcox native. Red cowboy boots must have been a favorite
judging from the number of them displayed. Koko, his beautiful horse, is buried across the
street near the Rex Allen statue. The Chiricahua Museum and Research Center is located
nearby, as is the Headquarters Saloon where the youngest Earp brother, Warren, was killed
in a gunfight in July of 1900. Stop at the Willcox Southern Pacific Railroad Depot, which
has been restored to serve as the City Hall, and enjoy an interpretive railroad display in
the lobby. If you didn’t eat lunch out at Apple Annie’s, cross the street for a burger
served in an old railroad car. RV parks with full hookups are plentiful in the region; just
check your Trailer Life Campgrounds,
RV Parks & Services Directory
. Don’t let Arizona’s late-summer heat deter you. Come
and pick your own peaches, enjoy the festival and then, in the late afternoon, sit back in
the comfort of your RV and watch a spectacular monsoon storm, as thunder roars and
lightning dances across the desert sky.

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