The heat is intense in the Wenatchee orchards of Stutzman Ranch. But each tree provides a little shade as you reach a hand through the leaves to feel it: a bulbous Red Globe peach, fuzzy but firm on its skin, hiding juicy flesh beneath.
Feeling the fruit at Stutzman isn’t about poking around a produce aisle, it’s part of the experience on the pick-your-own farm. During cherry season, dozens of visitors flood the orchards to grab Rainier cherries, a variety developed in the state. They grow in gold and red bunches, and have a crisp bite and uniquely sweet flavor.
Though the entire state of Washington has agriculture, this central region is its most abundant. Up to 70 percent of the country’s apples are grown here, about 2.5 million tons each year. But there are also grapes and pears, wheat and potatoes, and farm stands dot the roads east of the mountains.
West of the mountains, berries are king; locally grown strawberries and raspberries give way to flats of blackberries in the summer. Hikes throughout the Cascades wander through fields of wild huckleberries, though whole swaths of forest are deeded solely to Native American tribes for harvest, in treaties that date back to the 19th century.
The Stutzman orchards were started in 1907 by the current owner’s great-grandfather, and they grow everything from pluots to nectarines. In late summer, the harvest turns to apples, first the Gala variety and then Fuji and Golden Delicious. The apples are even more firm than the peaches, their skin stiff. Visitors quickly gather one pound of apples after another, fruit destined for pies and ciders across the state. Once in hand, they deliver a satisfying crunch at first bite.