I am currently reading a book called the “Golden Peaches of Samarkand”, by Edward K Schafer, all about the historical importance of peaches, specifically in the T’sang Empire in China. The information is vast, but I thought I’d share with you some tidbits about the history of everyone’s favorite stone fruit- the PEACH.
Peaches originated in China, where they are native to northwest China. Archeologists believe that peaches in China were first domesticated along the Yangzi River, where they have found fossilized peach stones believed to be from 6000 BC. Historians have found peaches discussed in Chinese writings from the 10th century. Of specific importance to Chinese culture was the peach blossom, thought to fend off evil spirits and provide vitality. When traveling between towns, Emperors were preceded by soldiers carrying peach blossoms, and each New Year began with peach blossoms hung on front doors all over the county.
To this day, China is the world’s leading peach producer. China produces half of the world’s peaches – 11 million tons of peaches per year, followed by Italy producing 1.5 tons, and then the USA at 1 ton. The botanical name for peach is “Prunus persica”, translated from Latin to “Present from Persia”, referring to the Persian introduction of the Peach to the Romans. After conquering Persia, Alexander the Great took peach seeds to Europe, marking the fruits introduction to Spain and France. In the 16th century, Spanish explorers brought the first peaches to south America; from there, the peach traveled to England, where it became a rare and prized delicacy. It was known that Queen Victoria’s favorite treat was a fresh peach after dinner.
In the early 17th century, English colonist George Minifie planted the first peach at his home in Virginia. This is thought to have been the first peach tree planted in North America. In 1768, Thomas Jefferson planted peach trees at his estate Monticello but it took another 100 years for peaches to be commercially grown in the United states. They were first grown for sale by farmers in Maryland, Delaware, Georgia and Virginia.
The most recent Peach history comes from 2010, when the International Peach Genome Initiative completed the sequencing of the peach genome, composed of 227 million nucleotides. And that we are talking about genetics, I just recently learned that peaches and nectarines are actually the same species. They are simply characterized by the existence (or lack there of) fuzz on their skin.
Until next time,