To taste a Northwest summer, start on a windswept bluff in Mosier, 70 miles up the Columbia River Gorge from Portland. Here, in Jim Reed’s Columbia Blossom Organic Orchards, apricots ripen to a soft blush in June. Waves of rich, juicy stone fruit – nectarines, plums, peaches and more – follow from July into late September.
Fruit from these 32 acres arrives weekly in the kitchens at Grand Central Bakery. Those apricots, along sweet, rich tree-ripened nectarines and peaches, practically sing when paired with tender pie dough in a fruit tart. The filling is little more than simmered, lightly sweetened fruit. The tarts, though simple, are nothing short of spectacular.
“Other people use a lot of sweeteners or ascorbic acid in fruit fillings to make up for fruit that’s not perfect,” says Cait Daniels, who oversees pastry production. “We start by finding that fantastic fruit so we don’t have to add much to it. I think it really shines in this preparation.”
Jim prunes his trees aggressively for fruit size and flavor. Most important, he lets peaches and nectarines ripen on the branches, which makes them richer, sweeter and juicier than fruit picked earlier for shipping.
We’ve been buying Jim’s stone fruit for eight years now, using it in those wonderful summer tarts but also adding slices to sour cream coffee cake and frangipane tarts.
Aside from loving care, we wondered what makes for such luscious fruit coming off the trees, year after year.
“It’s organic – I think that makes quite a bit of difference,” Jim says. “And (the orchard) is halfway between the desert and wetter climes. Between the two, I think that’s why.”
We just hope he keeps growing it, so we can keep making those delicious fruit tarts.