Friday, July 17, 2009

Sweet Georgia Peaches

When I was growing up, if we came through Atlanta during peach season we always stopped at the farmer's market for peaches. This was nothing like the markets you see in towns all over America today. There were no crafts, musicians or over-priced organic vegetables. The Atlanta Farmer's Market in the 60s was an enormous, sprawling complex with row after row after row of stalls. Farmers backed into stalls and sold produce right off the truck at rock bottom prices.

Now is the height of peach season here in Georgia. My partner and I have nearly polished off the grocery bag full of sweet, juicy peaches I picked up at a local orchard last weekend. These were a bit smaller than my vision of the ideal peach, but tasty nonetheless--especially in the delicious cobbler my partner made.

There are lots of different kinds of peaches. Mostly they are classified by how firmly the flesh attaches to the pit (clingstone vs freestone). Commercial peaches are often clingstone varieties. Nothing will put you off of peaches more than fighting to free the hard, dry flesh from a gas-ripened cling stone peach. Blech.

Around here folks assume when you talk about peaches, you mean free stone peaches. The debate revolves around whether white or orange peaches are the better tasting peach. They are both really good, but I'll pick an orange over a white every time.

If you have never had a tree-ripened peach, you really haven't had a peach. A good peach is never hard. Peaches that crunch like an apple when you bite into them should have had a few more days on the tree. Even canned peaches are a bit firm compared with a fresh, ripe peach.

White or orange, the best peaches are so juicy you need to eat them outdoors or over a sink. My partner (a native Georgian) always peels his. He doesn't like the texture of the skin and says it tastes bitter. I prefer peaches with the skins, in part because I lack the patience to peel them but also because I want every single bite.

We have a peach tree in our yard. It came up on its own from a discarded pit. Last year we harvested a couple of bushels of white, freestone peaches. Because of the drought they were on the small side but still sweet and juicy. This year the fruit fell off almost immediately, probably because of a late cold snap.

I'm glad to live where it's possible to eat peaches all summer long. You can keep your South Carolina and California peaches. Everyone knows there ain't nothing sweeter than a Georgia peach. Even...

The Crotchety Old Man

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