"Fitz" Kelly, owner of Fitzgerald's, leaves Reedley (a 1/2 hour southeast of Fresno) at 4:00 am to get to San Francisco in time for the 8:00 am opening of the Saturday morning Ferry Plaza Farmers' Market. But he doesn't mind the long drive, which he's been doing since the Market first opened in May 1993, because he knows that his two enthusiastic local S.F. recruits, Liz Crane and Alvaro Lacayo, are waiting to help him once he gets to the Market and he knows he'll have a good time hearing customers "ooh and ahh" after sampling his tree-ripened stone fruit. Fitz makes the trip to San Francisco every Saturday morning from the first week of May to mid-August while his stone fruit trees are producing.
Too Many Varieties to Count
Fitz began growing stone fruit in 1972 after deciding to leave the teaching profession. Over the last 24 years, he has continuously developed the orchards and now grows 74 varieties of peaches, nectarines, apricots, plums, plumcots and other assorted stone fruits on 35 acres of land. For a picture of Fitzgerlad's trees in bloom go to http://www.well.com/user/ecrane/peaches.html. While visiting the web site, browse through some fun recipes Liz is developing using Fitz's fruit.
When I learned that he distributes 75-80% of his fruit through wholesalers, I was a little skeptical that his fruit might be the same baseball-hard, flavorless fruit you find in supermarkets. But I was one of the "ooh and aah" customers after sampling a juicy peach slice. All of Fitz's fruit comes to the Market perfectly tree ripened and it's ready eat. But because it's fully ripe, it's fragile and should be used within a few days of purchase.
Each week Fitz has a different variety to offer, depending on what's ripe that week. But be warned that a variety that's available this week, may not be available next week. Fitz encourages customers to "buy it when you see it" and to stop by every week to see what's ripe. There will be a weekly update of what's ripe on Fitzgerald's website so you can get a preview before heading to the Market. His most popular varieties of peaches include Lady in Red, Begorra, Sugarlips and Miss Molly. The most popular nectarines include Rose Diamond, Chinese Bride, Gladiator and Carmen Mirandas.
White vs. Yellow Flesh
White-fleshed peaches and nectarines are becoming very popular with his customers, so I asked Fitz to describe how they're different from yellow-fleshed varieties. "The key difference is in their acid levels", he says. The yellow-fleshed varieties are high in acid which competes with the fruit's sugar to give the fruit a "zingy" flavor we associate with a well-ripened peach or nectarine. The white-fleshed varieties have little or no acid so only the sweetness of the sugar comes through to the palate.
Fitz was the first grower in this area to commercially plant the "Arctic Rose", a white-fleshed nectarine that has been a huge success with his customers. He'll be bringing these lovely nectarines to the Market this year starting around the end of June. Another enticing white-fleshed nectarine is called "Leather and Lace". Liz describes it as a having an "ugly, leathery skin with a luscious sweet flesh". Fitz has an incredibly loyal following of customers who stop by his stand every week to check if white-fleshed nectarines are available. When they're available, they sell out very quickly.
This year for the first time, he'll be bringing newly developed "low acid" peach called Sweet Scarlet that has never been brought to market before. He says that it will be "really spectacular and very different" and that we should look for it from June 15 through early July.
A Hidden Treasure
Fitz is not selling plumcots this year because he has one a very small quantity available. But he's planted 6 more trees and expects to be offering them for sale next year. I had the opportunity to try one and was captivated by its flavor -- a combination of a plum and apricot in one fruit! I'll be the first in line when he comes to the Market with plumcots next year.
Since Reedley is just about equidistant between San Francisco and Santa Monica, he also sells at the Santa Monica farmers' market on Wednesdays. Fitz drives about 1,000 miles a week to attend these two markets. Through Fitzgerald's web site, you can also order fruit by mail if you can't make it to one of these markets.
Updated December 2001
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