Sweet Lessons From A South Carolina Peach Professor

Originally published on August 20, 2011 12:53 pm

Desmond Layne may just have the best job in America. He's a peach specialist at Clemson University in South Carolina — and a fruit video star. Layne posts weekly videos from out in the orchard, where he samples his peach pick of the week.

In a recent video, he bites into a peach of the Winblo variety, and then collapses to the ground in ecstasy: "This is paradise!" he exclaims. "Sweet, juicy, it melts in your mouth. Winblo is like the perfect peach: Creamy texture, awesome peach smell — what more could you ask for?"

Layne has tasted countless varieties of the fruit, but says Winblo is The One. It's "a peach that will just sorta knock your socks off," he tells NPR's Melissa Block.

You'd think that Layne might run out of ways to describe peaches to his online viewers, but he finds ways to get his point across: "Drips off your elbows, drips off your chin, drips off your face, drips onto your shirt, onto your pants, onto your shoes ... We just want the consumer to know out there, that this is an awesome fruit and it's a great time of year."

Unlike apples and pears, peaches in chain supermarkets aren't labeled by variety — they're simply identified as "white peaches" or "yellow peaches." That's because different varieties of peaches hit their two-week ripeness window throughout the summer, Layne explains. "We don't typically store them for long periods of time like we do other fruits."

A peach can be deceiving; it will look and smell ripe, but when you bite into it, it can be hard or tasteless or mealy. If you're picking your peaches in a supermarket rather than an orchard, Layne offers some tips: "Put it up to your nose and smell it; it should have a good peach smell," he says. And give it a gentle squeeze, too — the fruit should give a little under the pressure of your fingertips. And don't forget to look at the label to see where the peach was grown.

"Consider where the fruit came from," Layne says. "If it came from 3,000 miles away, then bear in mind that it was probably picked at a much more immature stage, and it's not going to be as ripe and delicious. If it came from a neighboring state, it's probably a whole lot riper."

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MELISSA BLOCK, Host:

This time of year, we're thinking Desmond Layne might just have the best job in America.

DESMOND LAYNE: Hey, I'm Desmond Layne, peach specialist at Clemson University.

BLOCK: Peach specialist and video star, Desmond Layne posts weekly videos from out in the orchard as he samples his peach pick of the week. So one week, it's the variety Snow Bright.

(SOUNDBITE OF VIDEO)

LAYNE: Now, that is an excellent peach: extremely sweet, juicy. You can see the juice just sort of welling up in there, ready to drip off my arm.

BLOCK: And another week, it's a peach called Winblo.

(SOUNDBITE OF VIDEO)

LAYNE: I found it. I found it. This is paradise. Winblo is like the perfect peach: sweet, juicy, it melts in your mouth, creamy texture, awesome peach smell. What more could you ask for? Let's have another one.

BLOCK: And Desmond Layne joins us from James Cooley's orchard in Chesnee, South Carolina. Desmond Layne, you were so excited about that last peach you actually fell on the ground as you were eating it.

LAYNE: That is right. Winblo is my personal favorite. And if you're looking for a peach that will just sort of knock your socks off, that is the one.

BLOCK: Wow. Are you running out of ways yet to describe a peach? I mean, sweet, juicy, where else can you go with that?

LAYNE: Drips off your elbows, drips off your chin, drips off your face, drips onto your shirt, onto your pants, onto your shoes, you name it.

(SOUNDBITE OF LAUGHTER)

LAYNE: We just want the consumer to know out there that this is an awesome fruit, and it's a great time of year.

BLOCK: OK. But here's the thing. If I go to grocery store, I'm going to see all sorts of different kinds of apple or pear varieties that are all labeled, right? I know if it's a Pink Lady or a Macintosh. But peaches, it's pretty much usually just says, you know, white peach or yellow peach. So how do I know what I'm getting?

LAYNE: They don't usually market fruit in the chain stores by name as far as peaches are concerned, because the varieties last for only about two weeks at a time, and we have varieties that ripen throughout the entire growing season. So, you know, if you went to the store every two weeks, you'd be looking at different types of peaches throughout the entire summer because we don't typically store them for long periods of time like we do other fruits, like pears and apples, for example.

BLOCK: OK. Well, you note that peaches can be kind of deceiving, right? They can look great. They might even smell like they're ripe, and then you cut or bite into it, and it's just either hard or tasteless or mealy. So what are the tips for picking a perfect peach?

LAYNE: Well, to pick a perfect peach, obviously, you need to pick it off the tree yourself as it's tree ripened. That's certainly the very best possible scenario.

BLOCK: OK. And then barring that, what about at the store?

(SOUNDBITE OF LAUGHTER)

LAYNE: Well, if you're at the - if you're going to the local chain store to pick up peaches, you want to be able to put it up to your nose and smell it. It should have a good peach smell. It should give a little bit to your squeeze. And then consider where the fruit came from. If the fruit came from 3,000 miles away, then bear in mind that it was probably picked at a much more immature stage, and it's not going to be as ripe and delicious. If it came from a neighboring state, it's probably a whole lot riper and a lot better eating experience.

BLOCK: And what's your pick this week for the peach of the week?

LAYNE: Well, peach pick number 15 for South Carolina is called August Prince. It's a good-sized peach. It gets 3 to 3 and a quarter inches in diameter, yellow flesh, melting flesh, freestone, sweet, juicy, normal acidity, all the kinds of stuff that we're looking for in a traditional Southern peach. And it is fabulous.

BLOCK: There you go, sweet and juicy.

(SOUNDBITE OF LAUGHTER)

LAYNE: There you go.

BLOCK: Desmond Layne, thanks for sharing your enthusiasm for peaches with us today.

LAYNE: It has been my delight, Melissa. Thank you so much.

BLOCK: Enjoy your day.

LAYNE: I will.

BLOCK: ..COST: $00.00 Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.