Golden Peaches of Samarkand–exotic, but not mythical

My friend Andy Mariani <link> produces the best dried fruit I know of, and being born and raised in the Valley of Heart’s Delight (Santa Clara County, CA), I know whereof I speak.

Last year I was surprised to see that he was selling what he calls “Silk Road Nectarines.” He brought seeds back from travels in Central Asia and has been able to propagate trees so successfully that now they are available.

Here is the story in his own words:

There’s an interesting story behind the ‘Silk Road’ nectarine I grow.  I brought back some seeds of this nectarine strain when I visited Tashkent, Uzbekistan, in 1981.

I tasted them there and was able to bring back two seeds, and they both germinated—one I called Samarkand, the other Tashkent Gold.   Later I crossed them with some California nectarines to improve fruit size and general productivity.  The best one I named ‘Silk Road.’ It is my most popular offering at the Santa Monica Farmers Market, where we vend many of our fruits.  I did some research on these pure gold nectarines, which, it turns are mostly grown in the Samarkand region of Central Asia.    I also learned that many Asians do not distinguish between nectarine and peach—they are all called peaches [桃].   Logically, I have come up with the theory that the fabled Golden Peaches of Samarkand were in fact these exotic “peaches” that so impressed the Imperial Court of the Tang Empire. 

Seeing these, and tasting them last year, felt like an astonishing moment in which two halves of my life came together totally unexpectedly. On one side, my own family history of growing fruit here in the valley, and on the other, my reading of Edward Shafer’s Golden Peaches of Samarkand: A Study of T’ang Exotics early in my doctoral studies. Reading Shafer had left me with the impression that the “golden peaches” were quite mysterious, and probably, whatever they’d been, no longer existed. And indeed, there are others today who still have the impression that we can’t even guess what the Golden Peaches [金桃] of Samarkand were.

But, as with so many aspects of scholarship, knowing the reality is much more delightful than the romantic fantasy.

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