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There are thousands of different peach varieties, but not all types of peach trees are best suited to every region. Regional suitability depends on how much of a cold period each region undergoes each year. This is because different peach varieties require different amounts of time in the cold, “chilling," before they will produce fruit each year. In warmer climates with shorter cold periods, it may be possible to have fresh peaches from spring to fall.
Some peach varieties need merely a few hundred hours or fewer of this chilling time, while others need five or six times that amount. The less time peach trees need to spend in the cold, the earlier growers will see peaches forming on their trees. This can be a particular concern in areas where temperatures fluctuate. An unseasonable warm spell after a period of cold could cause peach trees to bloom, with a subsequent cold snap ruining the growth. The peach variety known as Belle of Georgia needs 850 hours of chilling, and it is grown in other locations besides the state of Georgia. Many other peach varieties, such as Sweethaven, Mountain Gold and Norman, require the same amount of chilling time. Others need 1,000 hours or more, including Nectar, Raritan Rose, Reliance and Contender.
Peach varieties are not only classified by the amount of cold they need to produce their sweet, juicy fruit, but they are also classified by the fruit itself. There are freestone and clingstone peaches, as well as yellow flesh and white flesh peaches. Sweet Scarlet, a yellow flesh peach, will produce a more tangy taste than white flesh varieties such as Spring Snow. Clingstone peaches are exactly what they sound like: the flesh of the fruit adheres more tightly to the pit or stone inside the fruit. The flesh of a freestone peach is much looser around the pit than it is in a clingstone.
There are so many peach varieties that no one can correctly identify all of them except an expert grower. What shoppers and cooks may find most helpful is learning how to identify freestone from clingstone peaches. Many peach lovers enjoy freestone varieties because they are delicious when eaten fresh, and they also handle well when freezing. Clingstone varieties are sometimes marketed for eating fresh, but some experts say they are best for canning.