By Nancy Van Valkenburg
WILLARD, UTAH – September 5, 2015 (Gephardt Daily) – Peggy Molnar had a single reason for rising before the sun and driving her pickup the 90 long miles from Evanston, Wy., to Willard, Utah.
“Roma tomatoes,” said Molnar, 55, who at 8 a.m. on Saturday sat waiting outside the
Pettingill’s Fruit Farm stand for its 8:30 opening.
“I came here last week in the afternoon, and they had just run out of Romas, so I came early today. I need them to make spaghetti sauce and salsa. I’m almost out of what I canned last year, and my family won’t eat it out of stores.”
Molnar was one of countless shoppers who stopped by Utah’s Fruit Way early on the holiday weekend. Several varieties of peaches are at their flavorful peak right now. Sweet corn is going strong, and what’s a Labor Day cookout without an iced watermelon?
Tomatoes came on late this year due to chilly night temperatures, but the farm stand’s bins were overloaded - with varieties excluding canners’ favorite, the meaty, dense Romas.
“They told me they should have some next week,” said Molnar later, as she loaded her truck with a large watermelon, two oversized cantaloupes, and a half bushel of Angelus peaches she planned to bottle and add to her jam stash.
“Canning is a lot of work, but the outcome is so nice.”
Fruit Way, located on the winding, mountainside U.S. 89 in Willard and Perry, is home to 10 or so fruit stands. Pettingills is the southernmost, at 8735 S. U.S. 89. Continuing north on 89 through Willard, lovers of fresh, local produce will see Woodyatt Cherry Farms, Grammy’s Fruit-n-Produce, Henry’s Fruit, Gray’s Local Fruit, Tagge’s Famous Fruit & Veggies and Sumida’s Fresh Vegetable & Fruit stand before leaving town.
Once in Perry, choices include Matthews Fruit Farm, Nielson’s, and Paul’s Patch, which caps Fruit Way at 1894 S. U.S. 89, just short of Brigham City. Many of the fruit stands are family owned and operated by two or more generations.
“Eighty percent of what we sell here we grow on our 185 acres,” said Jean Pettingill Davis, manager of her family’s store. “Things like lemons and lettuce, we bring in. We start the season in June, with sweet cherries, and we close after pumpkin season on Halloween. Right now, most people are here for their favorite varieties of peaches.”
Pettingill’s and several of the other farm stands keep Facebook pages to let people know their Monday through Saturday hours and the types of produce available each day.
Coalville resident Zeph Schulz, 39, was teaching sons Daniel, 18, and Colter, 11, how to spot a good ear of sweet corn.
“But an hour and a half is too far to come for just corn,” Shulz said, looking up from under his black cowboy hat. “We came for the peaches. We have four kids, and we just hammer them. It’s too cold to grow much up there in Coalville. These peaches are as good as it gets. I just wish my kids were smart enough to know how good tomatoes are too.”
Kathy Mumma, 63, of Riverdale, took advantage of Pettingill’s peach slice samples to choose her favorite variety.
“I bought some peaches in a grocery store and they were not nearly as good,” she said. “I stop by at least once a month to buy whatever thing is in season. It’s hard not to come by.”
Kipp Hansen, of Kaysville, bought six half bushels of peaches. He’ll can half for his family, and his mother will can the rest.
“It messes up the whole kitchen, but it’s worth it,” said Hansen, 55. “These will probably last me all year, and they’ll remind me of the season.”
With each passing month, peak seasons for local cherries, peas, green beans, strawberries and raspberries have faded into the past. And with the first foliage beginning to turn red and gold, pumpkin season won’t be far behind.
The waning summer didn’t seem to bother Pleasant View resident Joe Campbell, 67, who strolled between bins of pears and apples, melons and plums, while whistling the tune to “We Wish You a Merry Christmas.”
“I’m just a happy guy,” he said, laughing when asked about his unconscious song selection.
“Christmas is my favorite holiday, and when I drove up and saw so many colorful fruits and vegetables, it made me think of presents piled up,” Campbell said. “I guess that just made me feel like it was Christmas.”