A Peach with a Pedigree

Peaches - Brian Halweil

This is all I can tell you,” said Antone Hugel, who sells assorted apples and one type of peach from his stand on Seven Ponds Road in Water Mill. “They are white peaches. They mature late. They don’t get very big and they don’t look very good. But people buy one or two to try, and they come back the same day and ask for more.” Last year, the peaches lasted just two days at the stand.

Such is the legend of the Gardiner’s Island peach a local variety with yellow, pink-blushed skin and white flesh that shows up at the rare farm-stand and kitchen table in early October, nearly two months after the East End’s standard peach season. (Mr. Hugel suggested that lucky cus-tomers who snag a peach plant the pit in the interest of perpetuating the unique variety.)

Bridgehampton historian and farmer Richard Hendrickson said that the Gardiner’s Island peach has also been known as the Louis Phillippe peach, named after the French ship that ran aground in a fog at Mecox Bay in April of 1842. The ship, bound for New York City with wine, champagne, and nursery stock, jettisoned much of its cargo, including the peach seedlings and rose bushes that became known as the Ship’s Rose or Shipwreck’s Rose and still persist in some Bridgehampton gardens. Mr. Hendrickson suggested that the Gardiner family either acquired a disproportionate number of peaches or showed an affinity for them, although two Gardiner family historians knew nothing of the peaches. (Edible East End is planning a fall expedition to Gardiner’s Island to look for signs of peaches.)

“Years ago, many local people cultivated them,” said Mr. Hendrickson, who is 93 and who has personally planted five generations of the trees. In recent decades, modern peach varieties that bore larger fruit earlier in the season squeezed the Gardiner’s Island peach out of South Fork gardens. Which is unfortunate. “I’ll tell you something that will make you drool,” said Mr. Hendrickson. “In the winter, there’s no better flavor than a scoop of vanilla ice cream with some Gardiner’s Island peaches on them that were canned when they’re ripe.”

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