More Than Just Peachy

While he originated fruit varieties including blueberries, apricots, raspberries and strawberries, Stanley Johnston is renowned for his “Haven” of peaches.
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peaches
Photography Courtesy of Thinkstock

“Although Stanley passed away in 1969, his legacy lives on in the orchards and berry fields throughout the state,” says Bill Shane, an extension educator for Michigan State University. “From 1940 through 2000, as a plant breeder, he developed many fruits that were important including 10 new peach, three apricot, one raspberry, one strawberry and four new blueberry varieties.”

When Johnston, an MSU research professor, began his work as superintendent of the South Haven Experiment Station in the 1920s, most Michigan blueberries were harvested from the wild, Shane notes.

“Professor Johnston introduced varieties from the Eastern United States, which led to the discovery that the low pH soils in Western Michigan, unsuitable for most crops, were ideal for blueberry production,” he shares. “Although he did release several new blueberry varieties, his genius was putting the whole production puzzle together for Michigan growers. The Western Michigan blueberry industry is now more than 20,000 acres and is a major tourist attraction.”

But while Johnston is credited with originating multiple fruit varieties, he is renowned for his “Haven” series of peaches — particularly the world-famous Redhaven — and summertime is prime time to enjoy them.

GROWING ON

Raised on a small regional farm, Shane is today based at the Southwest Michigan Research and Extension Center in Benton Harbor, where he oversees a wide array of fruit tree projects, advises growers and directs a peach breeding program.

“The eight peach varieties from Johnston’s program — Halehaven, Kalhaven, Redhaven, Fairhaven, Sunhaven, Richhaven, Glohaven and Cresthaven, plus two selections, Jayhaven and Newhaven, released posthumously — are named after South Haven, where Stanley did his work,” Shane notes.

For many decades, he explains, the Michigan peach business was centered on Elberta, a variety from the late 1800s that was prized as both a fresh market and a canning peach.

“Johnston developed earlier ripening peach varieties with better red skin coloration,” says Shane, adding that “the Havens” once accounted for at least 20 percent of the freestone peaches sold in the U. S. “Redhaven became the new center for the Michigan peach season as the first variety in the season with at least 50 percent red skin, good size, hardiness, mostly freestone and a wonderful flavor and texture. Western Michigan growers still speak with pride that Redhaven was first tested on their farms.”

But fruit varieties, like fashion, change with the time, and most of the Stanley peach varieties have been replaced with larger, firmer, redder varieties. The once-popular Elberta, Shane illustrates, is considered too small, green and fuzzy for current tastes.  Still, many of Johnston’s “Haven” varieties have served as parents for the development of newer varieties, he adds, “including many of the new Steller and Flamin’ Fury peach varieties developed by private breeders near Coloma in Southwest Michigan.”

And Redhaven is still the most widely planted peach variety in Michigan — and in the world.

“Less for chain stores,” notes Shane, “but increasingly for farm markets. Signs reading ‘We Have Redhaven Peaches’ woo travelers to stands from late July to early August.”

Savor peak peach season by treating yourself to the following recipes. Learn more at michigangrown.org.

Writer Eva Cameron is a Grand Rapids-based contributor.


Peach Blueberry Crumble Sundae
Photography by Caroline J. Beck

Peach & Blueberry Crumble Sundae (Yields: 8 Servings)

Ingredients

Filling
1 ½ pounds fresh peaches, skinned and sliced
½ pound fresh blueberries
1 tablespoon lemon juice
3 tablespoons all-purpose flour
¼ cup light brown sugar
¼ cup granulated sugar

Topping
1 cup all-purpose flour
½ cup rolled oats
¼ cup light brown sugar
¼ cup granulated sugar
½ teaspoon salt
1 stick (8 tablespoons) butter

Directions

Preheat oven to 375 degrees. In a large bowl, mix together all filling ingredients and let rest in medium-sized ovenproof baking dish while preparing the topping. In a separate bowl, combine all topping ingredients, incorporating the butter until it resembles the size of small peas. Sprinkle a thick layer of crumble topping over fruit. Bake for 50-60 minutes until fruit is bubbling and crumble top is golden brown. Cool for 30 minutes before serving with a scoop of Michigan-made vanilla ice cream.


Fuzzy Storm
Photography by Caroline J. Beck

Fuzzy Storm (Yields: 1 Serving)

Ingredients

2 ounces fresh peach puree
6 ounces ginger beer
1 ounce dark rum

Directions

Pour peach puree in bottom of highball glass. Cover with ice. Add ginger beer by slowing pouring over back of bar spoon. Repeat the technique with the dark rum.


Spicy Peach and Blueberry Grilling Sauce (Yields: 1 Quart)

Ingredients

½ pound fresh blueberries
½ pound fresh peaches, skins removed
½ large onion
Juice of 1 lemon
2 cloves garlic
2 tablespoons olive oil
½ cup dark brown sugar
½ cup cider vinegar
½ cup Worcestershire sauce
2 tablespoons tomato paste
2 chipotle chiles in adobo (canned variety)
½ teaspoon salt

Directions

Place all ingredients in food processor or high-powered blender and process until sauce is a smooth consistency. Transfer to a small saucepan and heat over a medium flame until the sauce reaches a boiling point, reduce and simmer for 30 minutes. The sauce can be prepared up to one week in advance but must be refrigerated until needed.

— Recipes by Caroline J. Beck


The Spartanburg Herald, South Carolina, Aug. 22, 1941

red haven peaches
Photography by Bill Shane

Benton Harbor, Mich. — A new variety of peach, which may revolutionize the early peach industry in the Spartanburg and Ridge sections of South Carolina as it promises to do in Southwestern Michigan where it was originated, is being watched by the horticultural world.

The new peach is the Redhaven, of which only 14 trees are in existence today.

The peach gives promise of being a heavy bearer of US No. 1 fruit of 2-inch minimum size, the accepted standard in the fruit world. The variety differs from others in that it is a brilliant red even when immature. In flesh and flavor it closely resembles the J. H. Hale variety to which it is related.

The Redhaven was originated by Stanley Johnston at the Michigan State Experiment Station at South Haven. Johnston is probably America’s No. 1 peach authority today and has to his credit the origination of many outstanding varieties including the Halehaven. This variety is being planted extensively through the South as well as the Middle West.

— Joe E. Wells

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