the warm july weather didn’t keep the brazos locavores away from their monthly field trip. this past sunday’s visit was with alicia redden of bluebird orchard, located in franklin, texas.
together with her dad, she tends and harvests peaches from their 100-tree orchard. she is also the proprietor of sun fortune soapworks, artisan of bar and liquid soaps hand made on the orchard. she started the tour by demonstrating cold-process soap making, the method used to make her natural soaps:
she described the soap-making process as a simple chemical reaction between lard, lye, sodium hydroxide (for solid bar soaps) or potassium hydroxide (for liquid soaps), and water. while a 100 degree ambient temperature is ideal for this method, it is considered a “cold” process because additional heat is not required to facilitate the reaction. once the basic mixture reaches the desired consistency, color and fragrance are added, and poured into a prepared mold.
once the soap reaches a solid state (within 48 hours), it is cut into bars and left to age for about month, depending on humidity levels. the aging process makes the soap dense and brings out the mild and gentle cleansing qualities natural soaps are known for. alicia has developed an extensive product line, and has been able to put her graphic design training to good use:
from here alicia led us on a tour of the peach orchard, started 20 years ago when her parents moved to the property. at the time, there wasn’t a tree in sight, but alicia’s dad heard that the sandy soils in the area were suitable for growing peaches. the two oldest surviving trees are approximately 15 years old, but are still producing abundant fruit:
we also got to see the newest part of the orchard, which wasn’t producing marketable fruit due to a late frost this past april:
alicia briefed us on how to prune peach trees into a bowl-like shape. this develops a branching architecture that evenly distributes the weight of the peaches towards the outside of the canopy, while allowing for air and sunlight to reach the crown of the tree:
she then taught us how to pick a good peach. first, look out for any insects that may be hiding in the leaves (those wasps can be sneaky…!), and turn the peach gently to look for any unripened green areas. if there’s good color all around and the skin indents a little when lightly pressed, gently twist and pull on the peach until it easily gives from its branch. peaches taste best soon after they’re picked, and are especially good when warmed by dappled sun…
if you weren’t able to join us for the tour, alicia sells her peaches and soaps at the brazos valley farmers’ market on saturdays in bryan, tx (and sometimes at the monday and wednesday markets too). stop on by to visit with her and sample her local products. you’ll be glad you did.
thanks for a wonderfully relaxing tour alicia, and thanks to heather for organizing it. be sure to keep an eye on the locavores website for the upcoming farm tours, perhaps you’ll be able to join us next time…