FOOD / The cream of early peaches: Joanna Blythman meets a specialist grower who supplies delectable fruit to the British market

Jose Gandia produced his first peach of 1993 on 18 March - the earliest that season to be grown entirely outdoors. But he was too ambitious: late frosts eventually put paid to his tentative crop.

This year Mr Gandia, whose family firm, S A T Royal, is Spain's largest producer of hand-picked peaches and nectarines, was more conservative: his first fruits were ready for market on 10 April. That is still a huge achievement; ripe peaches and nectarines are not usually available until at least the beginning of June. Mr Gandia has extended the European growing season by six weeks.

To judge by the supermarket shelves, we now have summer all year round. In the depths of British winter we can buy nectarines which have been flown half- way round the world. They usually cost a bomb and taste of very little. But when I visited Mr Gandia's orchards outside Seville in the Guadalquivir river valley, earlier this month, I found that his fruits were truly luscious. Yellow peaches and nectarines named 'Candor' and 'Sun Red' - sweet but refreshingly sharp, wonderfully juicy - were just giving way to 'Springcrest' and 'Red Diamond', and to white varieties such as the 'Robin' peach, and a stunning, perfumed nectarine called 'Silvery'. How is this achieved?

Jose Gandia is a specialist, who took the decision not to extend his range,

but to concentrate on nectarines and peaches. This meant becoming involved with research, most of which is carried out in the US. 'Ever since the end of the Second World War,' says Mr Gandia, 'America has led the way in this field, but there has been a problem for us Europeans. US consumers buy with their eyes on the cosmetic appearance of fruit, and most of the fruit that's sold never gets eaten. In the US they sell fruit that is not properly mature, and then handle it badly. Breeders would show me long lists of different factors for classifying fruit - colour, size, smoothness - but nowhere was there any mention of taste.'

So Mr Gandia decided to fund his own research at the University of Florida. Now he is growing 300,000 peach and nectarine trees, as well as his experimental 'collections' - sets of 2,000 different varieties bred especially for him. Each strain is tested on five different root stocks, and to taste the same variety of white peach from different root stocks is a revelation.

Once early varieties with powerful flavour have been selected and planted, vigilance is essential: sophisticated weather prediction equipment alerts managers to late frosts, and fires are built to prevent damage to the crop.

We can buy these fruits in Britain at Marks & Spencer, which is placing 'tree- ripe' specimens on its shelves within three days of picking. 'We've done a lot of work in the south of France on this high-risk ripe fruit,' says Peter Village, M & S's fruit technologist. 'Their season begins in June. But because Seville is that much farther south, we can produce the same quality of fruit between March and June, when the southern hemisphere sources are past their best.'

Summer stone fruit is still basically a bulk market, and price is the main factor. Growers strip their trees in one or two pickings. Because the fruit is graded by machines, it has to be picked when relatively green and 'backward', which means that much of it never ripens properly. And crews are often paid solely by the quantity they pick.

Mr Gandia's exports to M & S are treated quite differently. The fruit is picked only after it has passed two sophisticated maturity tests - one to judge sugar content, the other resistance to pressure. 'This tells us that the fruit, although firm, is mature and can still ripen en route to stores,' says Mr Village. In Mr Gandia's orchards, the pickers receive 'ripeness' bonuses. Each pallet, tested as it is picked, must contain at least 8 to 12 per cent overripe fruit; without this margin of waste, the maturity of the rest cannot be guaranteed.

Further tests, for ripeness and pesticide residues, are carried out, before the fruit is graded by size and quality, and carefully packed.

Among European countries, Spain has a relatively poor reputation for pesticide control. So is Mr Gandia's early harvest predicated on chemical treatments? 'A mistake with pesticides would be Chernobyl for us,' he says. 'Unlike smaller farmers, who sell their fruit into co-operatives where their production is swallowed up in a larger pool, a pesticide problem would close us down. We are using about one-third of the chemicals we did 10 years ago.' According to M & S, daily tests never detect any chemical residues - not even those within 'safe' government limits.

The chance to buy ripe peaches and nectarines with a clean bill of health, early in the season, is good news for

British consumers. And now that Marks & Spencer has loose fruit displays in 57 of its stores, with a further 80 to follow next year, those of us who like to sniff out ripeness may be so attracted by the perfume of the fruits, we will buy them in Continental fashion, by the kilo.

Voices
Barn owls are among species that could be affected
charity appeal
News
Sarah Silverman (middle) with sister Reform Rabbi Susan Silverman (right) and sister actress Laura Silverman (left) at Jerusalem's Western Wall for feminist Hanuka candle-lighting ceremony
peopleControversial comedian stages pro-equality Hanukkah lighting during a protest at Jerusalem's Wailing Wall
Arts and Entertainment
The Bach Choir has been crowned the inaugural winner of Sky Arts’ show The Great Culture Quiz
arts + ents140-year-old choir declared winner of Sky Arts' 'The Great Culture Quiz'
Sport
After another poor series in Sri Lanka, Alastair Cook claimed all players go through a lean period
cricketEoin Morgan reportedly to take over ODI captaincy
PROMOTED VIDEO
Life and Style
ebookNow available in paperback
Life and Style
ebooksA superb mix of recipes serving up the freshest of local produce in a delicious range of styles
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

ES Rentals

    iJobs Job Widget
    iJobs Food & Drink

    Investigo: Finance Analyst

    £240 - £275 per day: Investigo: Support the global business through in-depth a...

    Ashdown Group: Data Manager - £Market Rate

    Negotiable: Ashdown Group: Data Manager - MySQL, Shell Scripts, Java, VB Scrip...

    Ashdown Group: Application Support Analyst - Bedfordshire/Cambs border - £32k

    £27000 - £32000 per annum: Ashdown Group: Application Support Analyst - near S...

    Recruitment Genius: Class 1 HGV Driver

    £23000 - £27000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This successful group of compan...

    Day In a Page

    Homeless Veterans appeal: 'You look for someone who's an inspiration and try to be like them'

    Homeless Veterans appeal

    In 2010, Sgt Gary Jamieson stepped on an IED in Afghanistan and lost his legs and an arm. He reveals what, and who, helped him to make a remarkable recovery
    Could cannabis oil reverse the effects of cancer?

    Could cannabis oil reverse effects of cancer?

    As a film following six patients receiving the controversial treatment is released, Kate Hilpern uncovers a very slippery issue
    The Interview movie review: You can't see Seth Rogen and James Franco's Kim Jong Un assassination film, but you can read about it here

    The Interview movie review

    You can't see Seth Rogen and James Franco's Kim Jong Un assassination film, but you can read about it here
    Serial mania has propelled podcasts into the cultural mainstream

    How podcasts became mainstream

    People have consumed gripping armchair investigation Serial with a relish typically reserved for box-set binges
    Jesus Christ has become an unlikely pin-up for hipster marketing companies

    Jesus Christ has become an unlikely pin-up

    Kevin Lee Light, aka "Jesus", is the newest client of creative agency Mother while rival agency Anomaly has launched Sexy Jesus, depicting the Messiah in a series of Athena-style poses
    Rosetta space mission voted most important scientific breakthrough of 2014

    A memorable year for science – if not for mice

    The most important scientific breakthroughs of 2014
    Christmas cocktails to make you merry: From eggnog to Brown Betty and Rum Bumpo

    Christmas cocktails to make you merry

    Mulled wine is an essential seasonal treat. But now drinkers are rediscovering other traditional festive tipples. Angela Clutton raises a glass to Christmas cocktails
    5 best activity trackers

    Fitness technology: 5 best activity trackers

    Up the ante in your regimen and change the habits of a lifetime with this wearable tech
    Paul Scholes column: It's a little-known fact, but I have played one of the seven dwarves

    Paul Scholes column

    It's a little-known fact, but I have played one of the seven dwarves
    Fifa's travelling circus once again steals limelight from real stars

    Fifa's travelling circus once again steals limelight from real stars

    Club World Cup kicked into the long grass by the continued farce surrounding Blatter, Garcia, Russia and Qatar
    Frank Warren column: 2014 – boxing is back and winning new fans

    Frank Warren: Boxing is back and winning new fans

    2014 proves it's now one of sport's biggest hitters again
    Jeb Bush vs Hillary Clinton: The power dynamics of the two first families

    Jeb Bush vs Hillary Clinton

    Karen Tumulty explores the power dynamics of the two first families
    Stockholm is rivalling Silicon Valley with a hotbed of technology start-ups

    Stockholm is rivalling Silicon Valley

    The Swedish capital is home to two of the most popular video games in the world, as well as thousands of technology start-ups worth hundreds of millions of pounds – and it's all happened since 2009
    Did Japanese workers really get their symbols mixed up and display Santa on a crucifix?

    Crucified Santa: Urban myth refuses to die

    The story goes that Japanese store workers created a life-size effigy of a smiling "Father Kurisumasu" attached to a facsimile of Our Lord's final instrument of torture
    Jennifer Saunders and Kate Moss join David Walliams on set for TV adaptation of The Boy in the Dress

    The Boy in the Dress: On set with the stars

    Walliams' story about a boy who goes to school in a dress will be shown this Christmas