A peach of a day in Carbondale | AspenTimes.com

A peach of a day in Carbondale

John Colson

Sam Esmiol of Aspen, right, checks on roasting lamb, llama meat and peaches at Sustainable Settings near Carbondale Sunday. (Paul Conrad/The Aspen Times)

The Slow Food Movement met the Colorado peach on an organic farm outside Carbondale Sunday afternoon, and the result was a gastronomic delight.The Celebration of Colorado Peaches event was convened at the Sustainable Settings experimental farm. It featured meats raised at the farm, fruity concoctions from a smattering of chefs from the Roaring Fork Valley, and cases and cases of the delectable, organically produced fruit itself.The feast also featured Asado roasted lamb cooked over a slow, day-long fire in a traditional Argentinian style.One of the more unique offerings of the day was llama meat. The fabled pack animal of the Andes mountains is, according to those who know such things, a staple in the kitchens and barbecues of South America.And to add to the variety, there were numerous potluck dishes brought by those who attended the feast, ranging from vegetables and pasta dishes to delicacies featuring peaches.Sustainable Settings director Brook LeVan said his purpose in putting the celebration together was, aside from the obvious desire to celebrate organically grown peaches, to acquaint valley residents with the idea that organic foods can be incredibly tasty, and that the Slow Food philosophy is worth checking out.The Slow Food movement began largely in reaction to the growing dominance of fast food outlets and what some believe is a general worsening of the overall health of the human race. Also cited is a loss of the cultural diversity that once characterized national eating habits. Slow Food USA, of which Slow Food Roaring Fork is a chapter, boasts 12,000 members and 140 chapters around the country.A gathering of some 160 valley residents sampled the goods, listened to the talks of master chefs at work and consumed peaches prepared in some unexpected ways. They also celebrated both the featured fruit and the philosophy of growing, preparing and enjoying foods in a leisurely style.

Colorado peaches, as many consumers in this state and around the nation will readily concede, are among the most delicious in the country.The fruit is the state’s fifth most valuable crop.Some historyAccording to a “History of the Fruit Industry in Mesa County,” written by former CSU researcher and Grand Junction native Joyce Sexton, peaches started out with a bang in the late 1800s.Back in those early days, Mesa County may not have seemed an ideal place to plant fruit, given that it generally receives a scant 8.5 inches of precipitation per year. But the creation of a network of irrigation ditches and canals solved that problem, Sexton wrote, and the fruit industry in general was off to a running start.The boom’s influence was broad. A special electric train was built to carry fruit to the railroad loading docks in Grand Junction. Peach festivals sprung up around the county. The politician, lawyer and statesman Williams Jennings Bryan spoke at one such festival in 1895, and in 1909 President William Howard Taft arrived to help the locals celebrate Peach Day.But ill-informed planting decisions, a plague of pests and rising land costs devastated the orchards, and in the early 1900s thousands of acres of fruit trees either died off or were pulled up. It was not until the advent of modern pesticides in the early 1920s that the western Colorado fruit industry rebounded, although it never again has achieved the heights it had reached in the boom years.According to news reports, Colorado’s peach growers are experiencing a second bumper crop in a row this year, with expectations of 12,000 tons in yield. The Colorado Agricultural Statistics Service has declared this will be the third largest crop since 1973’s record 14,000 tons and last year’s 13,000 tons.

In financial terms, according to the statistics service, that translated to $11.3 million in 2004, making peaches twice as valuable as apples.A peach of a dayRegardless of its industrial ups and downs, the Colorado peach was nothing but revered Sunday at the celebration.At one table, Ryan Hardy, chef at The Little Nell Hotel in Aspen, assisted by Scott McCurdy of The Snowmass Club, prepared a peach salsa. They used a recipe given to them by Tom Passavant and Karen Glenn, co-founders of the Slow Food Roaring Fork chapter.Nearby, cooking instructor Philip Kendzior whipped up a tasty peach and wildflower honey sorbet, complete with a dash of Jack Daniel’s to keep it from freezing too solidly.Under a neighboring apple tree, another of the Slow Food founders, Joyce Falcone, served up Bellini, a concoction of prosecco (the Italian version of champagne) and peaches invented by the famed Cipriani family at their signature establishment, Harry’s Bar in Venice.And for dessert, another Slow Food founder, Katie Leanaitis, demonstrated how to prepare her Organic Peach Fuzz Pie, which won the fruit pie grand prize at this year’s Carbondale Mountain Fair.The local culinary luminaries also included David Gibson of the Cooking School of Aspen and Mark Fischer of Six89.

Among the libations available were blends of fermented fruit juices, bottled by a partnership of the Jack Rabbit Hill vineyard and Big B’s Organic Juices, both of the Hotchkiss area.Lance Hanson of Jack Rabbit Hill and Jeff Schwartz of Big B’s came up with a plan to use the “culls” from orchards in the region (orchards often have to discard 50 percent of their yield because of cosmetic blemishes that render them unmarketable) to make a variety of blended hard ciders and Eau de Vit brandies. In their bid to find a way to help orchard farmers make use of what once was considered useless, Hanson said they have had considerable help from state and federal regulators, who “want to see this work as much as we do.”Hanson said the process uses “only the best fruit,” not windfalls or rotten specimens, and noted that the new company, Peak Spirits, recently won the support of Jorg Rupf, founder of St. George Spirits and Hangar One Vodka. He said Rupf not only liked the Eau de Vit that Peak Spirits has produced, he has arranged to have Colorado peaches sent to his California production facilities so he can make his own.”Once again, it’s somebody telling us that these are the finest peaches in the world,” Hanson enthused.John Colson’s e-mail address is jcolson@aspentimes.com