Ain't that a peach

Fresno farming family pens 'The Perfect Peach' recipe, essay book

FRESNO, Calif. — If the Masumoto family has done its job, you may never think about peaches the same way.

The Masumotos — a fourth-generation Fresno County, Calif., farming family — have written a 167-page book, "The Perfect Peach."

Published this month by Ten Speed Press ($22), the book includes essays detailing the dynamics of farming, a primer on peaches and most of all recipes celebrating the love of this juicy, sweet-tasting summertime fruit.

Already, interest in the book appears strong. A preview of the book was prominently featured on six-pages of the June issue of Country Living magazine.

"We wanted this book to be for people who enjoy peaches and are interested in cooking with them," says David Mas Masumoto, who co-authored the book with wife Marcy and daughter Nikiko. "But at the same time, this is for the people who want to know about the back story of the farm and where their food comes from."

Nestled on 80 acres in the southeast Fresno County community of Del Rey, the Masumotos grow peaches, nectarines and grapes for raisins. The farm has been in the family since the 1940s and is known for producing the beloved Suncrest Peach, an old-time peach with full flavor.

The Masumotos have carefully cultivated a following for their fruit. Fueling that interest has been David's writing. He wrote the award-winning "Epitaph for a Peach," along with several other books. And the family launched an adopt-a-tree program several years ago that draws people from throughout the state to pick tree-ripe fruit.

Inside their sunlit farmhouse recently, the Masumotos talked about how the book allowed them to combine each one of their interests and talents. Marcy, who is an avid home cook with a background in nutrition, and Nikiko, a budding performance artist, developed the recipes. David and son Korio, who is still in college, were the lucky taste testers.

"We got spoiled, because they are such good cooks," David says.

The only downside to tasting dozens of recipes was having to go to work afterward. Sipping bellinis at 10 a.m. doesn't bode well for a day worth of tractor driving.

Although the family had talked for years about creating a recipe book, they wanted the project to be more than just about food. They wanted it to be an honest reflection of their lives, from the joy of tasting a tree-ripe peach to the sadness of losing a loved one.

Each of the recipes is prefaced with a short explanation of how the recipe came about or who inspired it. Woven throughout the book are essays by David and Nikiko. In one passage, Nikiko fondly recalls how her "baachan," Japanese for grandmother, would "put up" her peaches in a simple syrup, freezing them in bulging plastic pouches.

"They tasted so good in my oatmeal," Nikiko says.

Ironically, David says, the best-tasting peaches were the preserved ones he ate during the winter, long after the trees stopped giving fruit.

"When you were not working so hard, you could enjoy them more," he says.

An entire section of the book deals with how to preserve peaches, including frozen, in jams, jars and even dried.

"To us, good preserved peaches are better than bad fresh peaches," Marcy says.

In the book, preserving peaches serves as a useful metaphor for how the Masumotos are working to preserve their farm and lifestyle.

Nikiko, who represents the fourth generation of the Masumoto family, admits that while farming has many rewards, it can be hard, back-breaking work.

"There is a real raw side to farming where you have to dig deep and say I can do this," Nikiko says. "And in a way, farming is like getting a tattoo. It can be painful. But you also get to the point where you decide that this is something that is really you, something that belongs with you for the rest of your life."

David would not have it any other way. He still enjoys solving the riddles that farming sometimes poses. And while he was excited about writing the book with his family, it also concerned him.

This book represents our family going public and in a way that is scary," he says. "What if people see us as a fragmented family?"

His fears were unfounded. When he saw the book for the first time, he cracked it open and breathed a sigh of relief.

"This is who we are," he says. "We'll see if the public accepts it or not, but this is who we are and it's authentic."


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