MARIONVILLE, Mo. — Before sinking her teeth into a contender peach, Susan Knapp moved her napkin closer.
It wasn’t her first time at the sample table at Murphy Orchard along U.S. Highway 60 in Marionville. Knapp anticipated a juicy surge, and she wasn't disappointed.
“Now that’s a peach,” she said, laughing with her friend, Carol Parker. Both women came to Marionville from Springfield. “We’ll drive here for the peaches — they melt in your mouth.”
This time of year, peach orchards are welcoming customers from all over the region.
At G's Orchard, near Verona, owner Mark Graves said he has been busy with customers for several weeks. He has nine varieties of peaches on 3 acres, with the red haven variety being a customer favorite.
"I had people here about 20 minutes ago that came from Jay, Oklahoma," he said Friday. "This was their third or fourth trip this summer."
Murphy Orchard has been growing and supplying area residents with blueberries, apples and strawberries for 35 years, but Wesley Murphy, a third-generation orchardist, said peaches are undoubtedly what bring the masses. He said people travel from all over the country to “taste the difference,” as their business slogan suggests.
“We got a lady that comes probably four or five times a year from Dallas, Texas,” Murphy said. “She has family up here, so she’ll call and see what produce we have and schedule her family visits based on what produce we have. … We have quite a following.”
Currently the orchard carries 30 varieties of peaches in 25 acres. One of the orchard’s newest employees, Brenda Popplewell, said she had no idea peaches came in so many varieties.
“When I first came in, and saw the list of all the different kinds of peaches, I said, ‘You got to be kidding me.’”
“If you come in thinking ‘a peach is a peach,’ well, you’re going to get home with something you don’t like and be disappointed," Popplewell said. "I want to make people happy — I have the best job in the world. Today we have the contender and the Canadian harmony.”
While the heat in recent weeks may have discouraged some people from getting out, there is an upside.
“To me, when you get into July and August you expect high-90-degree days — and that’s good for the peaches,” Murphy said. “Peaches usually get a little sweeter when the temperature gets that high. We irrigate everything, so if we get a little behind in rainfall we can withstand the long drought periods.”
Murphy says four employees work throughout the year to maintain the orchard as well as the strawberries, blueberries, grapes, blackberries, melons and apples. And it’s all picked and sorted by hand.
At G's Orchard, Graves said the peach season could run another couple weeks, and then he'll get ready for apple season about the end of August.
Murphy Orchard is also reminding customers not to forget apples this fall, and offering its popular apple slushy in the summertime reminds guests to return.
For some families, visiting the orchards every summer and fall has become a tradition.
“As a kid I remember doing that,” said Rick Bookout, of Republic, who was at Murphy Orchard. “We’ve been coming here for the past 10 years for fruits because the selection and quality is better than what you find in the retail stores. … When I was a kid, though, we’d come pick apples together. Made some good memories.”