A city sprouted around this 120-year-old peach orchard

When the Tomich family started growing peaches and plums at their Orangevale farm, William McKinley was president. Author Jack London was on his way to Alaska to cover the Klondike Gold Rush. Sacramento counted about 30,000 residents, and not one had heard of a pluot.

After 120 years and five generations, the Tomiches still produce tree-ripened fruit on 20 acres just off Greenback Lane. But the world around them has vastly changed. Much of its neighborhood seems far removed from its rural past. Housing tracts back up to the farm’s fence line. Daily traffic on Greenback totals thousands of cars – not the occasional wagon.

“We are unique in the area,” said Vicky Tomich Allen, who now takes charge of the family’s fruit operation, Tom Tomich Orchards. “We’re the last commercial fruit orchards in Orangevale.”

How long will that tradition continue? With the rising cost of water and skyrocketing land values, Allen is uncertain. But she’s determined to make the most of this summer’s bounty.

“We have customers come from as far away as Tahoe and the Bay Area,” Allen said. “They come here because they can’t get fruit like this anywhere else. This is our legacy.”

Tom Tomich Orchards, named for Vicky’s dad, grows more than 40 kinds of peaches, 20-plus varieties of plums, two dozen kinds of nectarines plus a wide assortment of other fruit.

Tom and Lillian Tomich, Allen’s parents, are now 92 and 87 respectively, and finally taking it easy after a lifetime of fruit farming. The orchards were originally planted by Tom’s grandparents in 1897 when Orangevale wasn’t much more than a village. The farm’s first Black Mission fig trees came from figs planted at an old nearby stage coach stop.

“Dad is such an icon in the community,” Allen said. “After World War II, he went to UC Davis on the G.I. bill and got his master’s degree in horticulture. He worked really hard to make the farm the best it could be.”

Erik Allen, Vicky’s 20-year-old son and the farm’s fifth generation farmer, helps out in the orchards when he’s home from his engineering studies at Gonzaga University in Washington.

“You learn something new every time you come out here,” Erik Allen said during a break from picking. “There are so many different varieties, it can be hard to tell them apart. What I like best is the flavor, first of all. Plums are my personal favorite. My absolute favorite is the Dolly; it’s a green plum with lower acidity and more sugar. It’s just the best.”

Among the things he learned: Peaches can be sorted by smell. Yellow-fleshed peaches have a familiar peachy scent while white peaches tend to have a more floral fragrance.

Some customers time their visits to coincide with favorite varieties such as Suncrest peaches in July or O’Henry peaches in August, but there are many more delicious choices. By late June, a dozen kinds of peaches, plums, nectarines and other stone fruit will line the counters of the family’s fruit stand on Filbert Avenue.

When the family opened its fruit stand June 7 for the 2017 season, longtime customers quickly made a beeline to pick up the season’s first peaches, plums and nectarines.

“Their fruit tastes so fresh,” said Milt Nenneman of Orangevale. “If you go to the store and buy a peach, it tastes like a different fruit. Even if it looks good, it’s just bland by comparison. Unfortunately, most people don’t know what they’re missing.”

“I can’t wait for the first peach of the season,” added Fair Oaks’ Marilyn Ratkay, a Tomich customer for 10 years. “Nothing tastes quite like tree-ripened fruit. People don’t even realize what a difference there is. This place is a treasure.”

The difference is sweetness. Stone fruit such as peaches, plums and nectarines develop their sugars while hanging on the tree. Once picked, they may get softer, but not sweeter.

“I just love their fruit,” said Deborah Long of Folsom. “I grew up in Georgia. I know what a good peach tastes like. Vicky grows the best.”

Every summer, Long makes peach jam. “You can’t make good jam without good fruit,” she noted. “That’s why I come here.”

Family farmstands such as the Tomiches’ used to dot Orangevale, which got its name from its long-gone citrus crop.

“It’s very difficult now for a small farm to sustain itself in these circumstances,” Nenneman said. “The cost of real estate, labor, regulations, water; it can kill you. It’s not lucrative financially. You’ve got to love it to do it.”

The folks who work with the Tomiches love the family and the orchards, too.

“We have a lot of customers who come back year after year,” said Vicky Sakaris, who has worked at the family’s fruit stand for 35 years. “We know them all by name. My two sons worked here at the farm, picking fruit. So did my two grandkids. It’s like all in the family.”

Hundreds of Orangevale teens have worked in this orchard, Vicky Allen noted. For some, that summer employment led to a lifelong pursuit.

“I’ve been interested in farming since I was 12,” said Tony Cook, now 24 and a law student at McGeorge School of Law. “This place is a great opportunity for young people like myself. When I was 14 (and started working for the Tomiches), I had no idea what hard work was. Tom taught me a lot, not only about farming but Orangevale history. He has so much life experience and insight. He helped me with my own outlook on life. He taught me don’t be afraid of hard work.”

Cook was so impressed by Tomich’s teachings, he started farming 3 acres of fruit, too.

“Why grow peaches? They’re delicious,” Cook said. “There are so many different varieties. One of Tom’s innovations is he stretched the peach season by planting all these different kinds of peaches that ripen at different times. Instead of peaches only June to August, he extended peach season from mid-May to mid-October. He did the same thing with plums; his plum season now runs from May through November. That’s fresh fruit half the year.”

Vicky Allen continues to look to future summers. During the winter, her family planted more than 80 new trees.

“The drought took a terrible toll on our trees; it was horrific,” Allen said.

The orchards mean more to her than just juicy fruit.

“We’re proud of our tree-ripened fruit,” she said. “We don’t just grow fruit; we’re also educating young people about agriculture. We invite schools to come out and see our orchards. A lot of local kids work in our orchards, too. My son and I are carrying on a 120-year farming tradition. It’s a legacy and an honor.”

Debbie Arrington: 916-321-1075, @debarrington

Tom Tomich Orchards

What: Orchard fresh fruit including peaches, plums, nectarines, pluots, apricots, figs, pomegranates and more.

Where: 6331 Filbert Ave., Orangevale

When: 10 a.m.-4 p.m. daily now through Thanksgiving

Details: 916-988-0987

Nectarine almond crumble pie

Serves 8

The key to a great fruit pie is choosing the right fruit; even under a double crust, quality shows. Under-ripened fruit can be tough and often has not had a chance to develop enough sugar for good flavor; conversely, over-ripened fruit can be too sweet and unbalanced in flavor, not to mention too soft for good pie texture.

Recipe from the Los Angeles Times.

Crumble topping:

2/3 cup whole almonds

1/2 cup flour

1/4 cup plus 1 tablespoon light brown sugar

1/4 cup granulated sugar

1/8 teaspoon cinnamon

1/4 cup plus 1 tablespoon cold butter, cut into 1/2-inch cubes

Pie and assembly:

1/4 cup plus 2 tablespoons sugar

1/2 cup plus 2 tablespoons flour

8 cups sliced nectarines

1 1/2 teaspoons almond extract

Prepared, unbaked single pie crust

1 egg

Crumble topping, prepared

To make crumble topping: In the bowl of a food processor, combine the almonds and flour and pulse until the almonds are coarsely chopped and combined with the flour. Add the brown and granulated sugars and cinnamon and pulse again until combined. Add the butter cubes and pulse again until the butter is broken up and the mixture is crumbly.

The crumble topping can also be made by hand: Chop the almonds finely and stir together with the flour, brown and granulated sugars and cinnamon, then add the butter and rub together with your fingers until the butter is broken up and the mixture is crumbly.

To make pie: Heat the oven to 350 degrees.

In a large bowl, whisk together the sugar and flour. Stir in the nectarine slices, coating completely, then stir in the almond extract until evenly combined.

Pile the nectarine filling into the prepared pie shell, sprinkling over the slices any additional sugar-flour mixture that did not stick to the fruit.

In a small bowl, whisk the egg to form a wash. Brush the edge of the crust with the egg wash. Drizzle the crumble topping over the fruit slices.

Place the pie in the oven and bake until the crust is a rich golden color and the filling is bubbly and thick, about 1 hour. Cool before serving.

Spiced plum ice cream

Time: 10 minutes, plus 85 minutes standing and freezing time

Serves 8

Recipe from the Los Angeles Times.

2 pounds red-skinned plums or pluots (6 to 7)

3/4 cup sugar

3/4 teaspoon black peppercorns

1/2 teaspoon whole allspice

1/4 cup whole milk

3/4 cup whipping cream

1/2 teaspoon salt

Pit and chop the plums (you should have about 4 cups). Place them in a mixing bowl with the sugar and stir to combine. Set aside 30 minutes to macerate, stirring occasionally.

Crush the peppercorns and allspice with a heavy pan or with 1 or 2 pulses of a spice grinder. Leave in large pieces so they can be strained out later. Combine the spice mixture, milk, cream and salt in a small saucepan and bring to a simmer over medium heat, about 3 minutes. As soon as bubbles appear around the rim and a skin forms on top, remove from the heat and cover. Set aside 30 minutes to steep.

Place the fruit in a blender and strain the cream mixture over the top, discarding the spices. Puree until smooth. Bits of peel should be visible. The mixture will be slightly thinner than a milkshake. Pour into a bowl and chill for 30 minutes.

Freeze in an ice cream maker according to manufacturer’s instructions. The mixture will get to the texture of soft-serve ice cream. Spoon it into a container, cover and place in the freezer for another hour to ripen. Serve immediately. If the ice cream is left overnight, it may become icy, in which case you should allow it to warm slightly outside the freezer before serving.

Plum cake

Serves 10

This is a one-bowl, dairy-free cake that’s stirred together in three easy steps, with the happy union of Chinese five-spice powder, ground ginger and honey to flavor a tender, cornmeal-laced crumb. The number of Italian prune plums you use is really up to you, although the cake is slim and too, too many plums might make it soggy. You’ll need a 9-inch cake pan with high sides (at least 2 inches), or you can use a springform pan.

Make ahead: The cake can be covered and kept at room temperature for up to 2 days.

Recipe from Dorie Greenspan.

1/2 cup flavorless oil, such as canola, plus more for greasing the pan (may substitute butter for greasing the pan)

1 cup flour, plus more for the pan

1/4 cup yellow cornmeal

1 teaspoon baking powder

1 teaspoon Chinese five-spice powder

1/4 teaspoon ground cinnamon

1/4 teaspoon ground ginger

3 large eggs, at room temperature

3/4 cup packed light brown sugar

1/4 teaspoon fine sea salt

2 teaspoons vanilla extract

9 to 11 Italian plums, preferably small, halved and pitted (scant 1 pound total; see headnote)

1/4 cup honey, for glazing

Preheat the oven to 350 degrees. Use a little oil to grease the pan well, then dust the interior with flour and tap out the excess. Place the pan on a baking sheet lined with parchment paper, aluminum foil or a silicone liner. Whisk together the flour, cornmeal, baking powder, Chinese five-spice powder, cinnamon and ginger in a medium bowl.

Whisk together the eggs, brown sugar and salt in a large mixing bowl until the sugar dissolves and the mixture is smooth, then whisk in the vanilla extract. Pour in the oil, whisking until the batter is shiny and homogenous. Add the flour mixture all at once, whisking until thoroughly blended. Pour the batter into the pan. Arrange the plums, cut side down, on the batter in whatever pattern you like.

Bake the cake (middle rack) for 23 to 26 minutes or until it is golden brown, slightly springy to the touch and just starting to pull away from the sides of the pan; a bamboo skewer or other tester inserted into the center of the cake should come out clean. Transfer the cake to a wire cooling rack; cool for 5 minutes, then run a table knife around the edges of the pan and carefully unmold the cake; position it top/plum side up on another rack. Put a piece of parchment paper or foil under that rack (to catch drips), and have a pastry brush at hand.

When the cake is unmolded, begin the glaze. Place a wide skillet over medium-high heat, pour in the honey and boil for no more than 1 minute, just until the honey colors lightly. Remove from the heat; use a pastry brush to gently spread the boiled honey over the surface of the cake. A light touch is important here because the cake is tender. Allow the cake to rest until it is only just warm or reaches room temperature before cutting and serving.

Sweet bruschetta with peaches

Serves 6 to 8

Combining cream cheese, sour cream and heavy cream will create a mixture with taste and consistency similar to Italian mascarpone, which is expensive.

8 ounces cream cheese, softened

1/4 cup sour cream

2 tablespoons heavy cream

1/2 teaspoon vanilla

Eight 1/2-inch-thick slices crusty country bread

2 tablespoons olive oil

Sea salt

2 peaches, pitted and sliced

2 tablespoons honey

2 tablespoons finely chopped pecans, walnuts, almonds, pine nuts or pistachios

To prepare grill: Preheat gas grill to medium-high. Clean grill grids thoroughly with wire brush.

To make cream-cheese mixture: In small bowl, combine cream cheese, sour cream, heavy cream and vanilla.

To grill bread: Brush bread on both sides with oil. Grill bread slices for 2 to 3 minutes or until bottoms are golden and marked by grill. Turn over. Sprinkle with salt. Grill for 1 to 2 minutes. Transfer to serving platter.

To top bread: Spread cream-cheese mixture over bread slices. Arrange sliced peaches on top of cheese. Drizzle with honey. Sprinkle with nuts. Serve.

Nectarines with anchovies

Serves 6-8 as an appetizer

This bite-size tapa is adapted from one of chef-restaurateur José Andres’s favorite salads. Nectarines and anchovies taste wonderful together with the dressing. Grilling the nectarines first (in a grill pan or on the grill) works best, but you can serve them fresh as well. You’ll need toothpicks for this recipe. If you’re using fruit that’s less than ripe, it may be easier to cut the nectarines into quarters (rather than halves) before you cook them.

Recipe from The Washington Post.

2 tablespoons minced shallot

2 scallions (white parts only), thinly sliced

1 tablespoon Pedro Ximénez sherry vinegar

3 tablespoons olive oil, plus more for brushing the nectarines

Kosher or sea salt

Freshly ground black pepper

4 ripe nectarines (see note above)

2 cups loosely packed baby arugula

3 to 4 oil-packed anchovy fillets, drained

Whisk together the shallot, scallions, vinegar and oil in a medium bowl until emulsified. Season lightly with salt and pepper.

Heat a grill pan over medium-high heat. Halve and pit the nectarines; brush the cut sides lighty with a little oil. Add them to the grill pan, cut sides down; cook for 4 to 6 minutes, until some char marks form and their flesh is lightly caramelized.

Transfer to a cutting board to cool, then cut the halves into quarters. Divide the grilled nectarine quarters among individual small plates, or arrange them on a platter.

Top each quarter with a few baby arugula leaves and a piece of an anchovy fillet; secure with a toothpick. Drizzle dressing over the bundles and serve right away.

Spiced plum chutney

Makes about 4 cups

Supermarket plums can be disappointing to eat out of hand. This sweet-spicy chutney, perfumed with ginger, cloves and pepper, is anything but. It’s good enough to eat by the spoonful right out of the jar. Terrific on roasted chicken or a pan-seared pork chop, and a great way to start your day on top of waffles.

1 whole star anise

1 whole clove

One 2-inch piece cinnamon stick

1/2 cup red wine vinegar

1/2 cup sugar

1 2-inch piece peeled fresh ginger, cut into 1/2-inch-thick rounds

1 tablespoon whole mustard seeds

1 teaspoon ground black pepper

2 pounds red, black, green, or blue plums (tart or sweet; about 5 large), quartered, pitted

Finely grind star anise, clove, and cinnamon stick in spice mill or coffee grinder.

Combine spice mixture, vinegar, sugar, ginger, mustard seeds, and pepper in heavy large saucepan. Stir over medium-high heat until sugar dissolves and bring to boil. Add plums; reduce heat to low, cover, and simmer until chutney thickens and chunky sauce forms, stirring occasionally, about 30 minutes. Cool. Season to taste with salt.

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