A Family Legacy That's Just Peachy

PeachesIf you’ve ever made the drive from Austin to Fredericksburg along U.S. Highway 290, you’ve likely been dazzled by the abundance of wineries. But have you ever noticed the countless number of peach stands? Although for half the year many of these structures are sleepy and almost abandoned-looking edifices, they come alive from May through August (and even September and October in good years) during Texas peach season. 

 

Growing tree fruit is a long-term game. It requires the expertise of a pomologist, the risk tolerance of an entrepreneur and the wisdom and patience of a sage who is willing to devote time to rearing trees that, depending on the year, may or may not come to fruit. According to Travis Jenschke, peach seasons can be “good or better, or bad or worse.” Jenschke is the second of three generations of family farmers who have grown peaches at Jenschke Orchards—located along 290 near the Luckenbach turnoff. Gillespie County, where the Jenschke Orchards resides, has over 600 acres of peach trees in production on its loamy topsoil and rolling hills, and 50 of those acres are cared for by the Jenschke family. 

 

I hadn’t planned to see Travis, the eldest living Jenschke, while visiting the orchard, but to my delight, he was there that day. Meeting Travis did not disappoint as he delivered everything you’d hope from an almost-80-year-old peach farmer: warm, twinkling eyes, a delicately broken-in straw cowboy hat and a mustache as perfect as Jenschke peaches are pink. When I asked if the orchards we were admiring were always planted as peaches, he responds, “When I was a kid growing up, my dad depended a whole lot on peanuts and cotton. And if peanuts and cotton did well, we did well. But if it wasn’t doing well, we had to tough it out another year.” Such was the case for many family farms in the area during the 1940s, many of which eventually plowed their peanuts and planted peaches instead. 

 

Today, Travis’s son Barrett and his wife Lindsey run the family orchard. Lindsey describes meeting Barrett when they were going to school in Waco. “He kept saying ‘I live in Luckenbach!’ and I was like ‘Am I supposed to know where that is?!’ And he’s like, “Haven’t you heard the songs!?’ He was trying to name-drop, but it sadly meant nothing to me at the time.”
Eventually, Travis and Lindsey returned to the farm where Barrett grew up.“I think Barrett always knew he would come back and take things over. But I was always under the impression that was going to be our retirement plan…” Lucky for us, Barrett and Lindsey’s retirement plan kicked in early.  

 

When Barrett was 10 years old (and before traffic on 290 was a factor), he hooked up a watermelon-filled wagon to his four-wheeler and began the family tradition of selling fruit by the roadside. In his teens, he converted an antique covered wagon into a vegetable stand, which he eventually upgraded to a small covered barn. If you visit this summer, you’ll find a newly finished (and notably air-conditioned) storefront with tall raftered ceilings and the aromas of just-baked cobbler. There is a wall of shelves lined with peach preserves, peach salsa, peach butter and other products to delight visitors and give the Jenschkes an outlet for surplus fruit. 

 

Over the past decade, Barrett and Lindsey have busily diversified the business beyond peaches, too, now offering almost year-round pick-your-own experiences. “We do strawberries starting about mid-March,” Lindsey says. “And from strawberries, we’ll go to peaches and blackberries. And then from peaches, we’ll go straight into pumpkins—a pick-your-own pumpkin patch.” There are hayrides in the fall, corn mazes, a giant pit of (actual) corn for kids to play in, Christmas trees, an on-orchard Airbnb and more. “As my father-in-law (Travis) always says, ‘When the last peach is picked, the next season begins.’” 

 

Peaches remain the Jenschke’s biggest crop, though, and it’s a family decree—Ava (14) and Gage (10), Barret and Lindsey’s children, work the shop, drive tractors and help Lindsey navigate the intricacies of Instagram. The Jenschkes grow over 30 varieties of peaches that ripen over a period of months beginning with clingstones like June Golds and finishing with beloved freestones like Cary Macs and the large Lorings. A peach crop is most notably impacted by the average winter temperatures in January and February; different varieties of trees require a different number of hours at a certain temperature to produce buds. Even once the orchard is bright with blossoms (a popular time for senior portraits), there are a bushel’s worth of dangers that can still threaten a successful summer crop: late-season freezes, stink bugs, grasshoppers, diseases, floods, hail, global pandemics…you name it. 

 

I visited the Jenschkes the day after some substantial rain. Red mud caked my farm boots, and I saw two carefree kids, clutching flip flops, wading their way from the blackberry patch over to the peaches through deep mud they gleefully chose not to avoid. Though I’m sure the Jenskches would not recommend walking around barefoot in the orchards, I couldn’t help but notice that it was, in fact, possible to do. Opening up a farm for picking isn’t as simple as it may sound, and I could think of a million reasons why farmers would stick to selling solely from roadside stands. To name a few: kids climbing peach trees and potentially damaging the precious fruit, or worse, the trees themselves; visitors exploring the orchards after extended wine tastings and making rosé-all-day-like decisions. But for the Jenschkes, part of the joy of growing peaches is to connect with their customers in this unique way, greeting them as they return from the fields with sticky fingers, red cheeks and proudly toting a bushel of freestones. Lindsey elaborates, “Some people are really interested in the farming aspect. Some people, they come out because it’s just a tradition. We have people who have gotten engaged here, and then come back with their baby, and then their second baby, and some are on their third and fourth and it’s every year. We’ve gotten to know families who come with their parents, and then maybe the next season they're visiting with just one parent. So you really make a connection with certain families. There is a story there, and you become friends.”

 

If you visit Jenschke Orchards during peach season, and likely during pumpkin patch and strawberry time, too, you can almost feel the memories being made. What better way to embrace Texas seasonality than to brave a 100-degree summer day and taste a peach, plucked at its exact moment of perfect ripeness, warm from the sun with insides that explode with sugar and actually melt inside your mouth? And yes, you can taste as many peaches as you’d like while picking your own. “How else would you know if they’re good?” Lindsey asks. For the most up-to-date U-Pick information, checkout the Jenschke Orchards Facebook page or simply give the shop a call. It will likely be Lindsey that answers. 

 

Peach Crisp

6-8 medium-sized ripe peaches
1 t. cinnamon
½ c. water

¾ c. flour

1 c. sugar

½ c. butter or margarine

Preheat the oven to 350° or 375°. Peel peaches,remove the pits and cut into slices about ¼-inch thick. Place slices in a greased casserole dish and sprinkle with cinnamon and water. In a small bowl, work flour, sugar and butter/margarine with fingertips until crumbly. Spread the mixture over the peaches. Bake uncovered for 45 minutes or until peaches are soft and the top is lightly browned.

 Story by Ada Broussard Photos by Patty Robertson