Well, I was raised up / Beneath the shade of a Georgia pine / And that’s home you know / Sweet tea, pecan pie and homemade wine / Where the peaches grow — “Chicken Fried” by Zac Brown Band
July is halfway over, and that means Prunus Persica are everywhere. I live in the Palmetto State, which is a total misnomer. Yes, we have lots of Palmetto trees–and don’t you dare call them palm trees–you find those tall things out in California or on a beach in Hawaii. A more proper name might be the Peach State. Yes, I know Georgia has that dubious distinction, however, South Carolina produces waaaayyyyyy more peaches than our neighbor to the south. The best the state peach council could come up with was “The Tastier Peach State.” I’ll buy that. Although they are grown all over the state, we have two distinct peach towns–Gaffney and Gilbert. Use Google, folks. Ask it to show you the “Peachoid.”
We would make a trip to the local peach orchard and pluck ’em from the tree ourselves in a bushel basket on which my grandfather had scrawled his name in a marker. I remember the folks who owned the orchard weren’t keen on keeping the grass under the trees cut so my grandmother made us wear hunting boots and long pants (in July!) to protect us from snake bites. I later realized this was a cover crop of sorts to keep beneficial insects around to help with pollination and insect control. The folks who weren’t about to get dirty out in the field could buy them in neat little paper bags with handles from the roadside stand. I remember having to peel a seemingly endless mound of these drupes with a butter knife to make peach cobbler with and was always forewarned with the dreaded “You get that juice on your clothes, they’ll turn brown and you’ll never get it out!”
My grandmother made a very crusty and crunchy peach cobbler–lots of texture, with drop-style dumplings plopped on top of the fruit and baked. The whole thing was very firm and not as wet as I like it–I prefer a risen, pancake-like texture and a very soupy fruit base that is spooned over the ice cream in your bowl. What can I say? I break traditions.
- Peaches originated in China and across this continent by the Native Americans.
- Drupes, including peaches, are classified as either clingstone or freestone, which refers to the ability of the pit to be removed by hand vs. being cut from the flesh. In the peach world, the first harvests are usually clingstones. As the fruits mature, it’s easier to remove the pit.
- Yellow peaches are just as sweet as white peaches but more acidic. White peaches are a creamy pink color with a white flesh and you simply must eat these like an apple to enjoy the flavor, which is reminiscent of honey and vanilla.
- Nectarines are a peach cultivar, only smooth skinned vs the velvety texture of what we consider peaches.
- To store peaches, leave them at room temperature or if it’s especially hot, by the air vent from your air conditioner. Never store them in the refrigerator, it speeds up the ripening process and you’ll have brown mush.
- To prepare for long-term storage, peel and slice peaches and place into zip-top bags with a tablespoon of lemon juice and a tablespoon of sugar and then freeze.
Easy Peach Cobbler
Adapted from Southern Living Magazine
yield: 13×9 dish or 8 servings
5 cups sliced peaches (8-10 medium)
2 cups granulated sugar, separated
1 stick unsalted butter
1 tbsp lemon juice
1 cup low-fat milk
1 cup all-purpose flour
1 tbsp baking powder
cinnamon and nutmeg, to taste
Preheat oven to 375 degrees F. Peel peaches by submerging in boiling water and wiping skins away. Pit and slice peaches into a large saucepot with 1 cup of sugar and 1 tbsp of lemon juice. Add cinnamon and nutmeg to taste and stir to combine and cook over medium-high heat for 10-20 minutes or until peaches are softened. Place 13×9 baking dish in the preheating oven with the stick of butter and allow the butter to melt. Combine the dry ingredients–flour, sugar, baking powder, salt and more cinnamon in a bowl and add one cup of milk. Stir until just combined. Remove the baking dish from the oven and pour the batter over the melted butter. Do not stir! Then, pour the peaches over the batter. Again, do not stir! Return to the oven and bake for 40-45 minutes or until golden brown. Remove and let cool for a few minutes before serving over vanilla ice cream.