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Positively Peachy!

A peach, a peach, a real cool peach, a peach in the garden grows, oh yeah…

I don’t know if that was ever a song, but it was a little phrase we sang when I was at summer camp. Beyond that, I don’t remember it having to do with anything. I guess it doesn’t matter but every time I think of peaches that runs through my head (from 50 years ago). Peaches. What do you think of?

Georgia, probably. Georgia peaches are famous. I don’t think I’ve ever had a Georgia peach unless they were unmarked in the grocery, and I happened to buy one. I rarely buy a peach in a grocery, however. I limit my peach buying to the summertime and then it’s almost only at a fruit stand in or around Porter, Oklahoma. So, when I think of peaches (besides my song), I think of Porter peaches and more specifically, the Elberta variety that is usually only available in late July to mid-August. I prefer Elbertas because, well, that was my mom’s favorite peach. As far as she was concerned, you couldn’t beat an Elberta. The flavor and more particularly, the color. Elbertas are very red around the pit and the flesh is almost orange, so it makes a very beautiful dessert or jam. My mom would only use Elbertas for her peach butter and her peach cobbler and yes, they were both amazing. More peach flavor than you could ever imagine and so rich and buttery. And when you bit into one, run down your chin juicy.

Nowadays, I make every effort to find and buy Elberta peaches and guess what? In talking with the peach farmers, they don’t like to grow Elbertas and have almost completely stopped growing them! What?! How am I going to make my peach butter? Or peach cobbler? That certainly explains why it’s so difficult to find that variety. Here’s what I learned: Elberta peaches are considered a vintage or heirloom variety. There are many that are easier to grow that are descended from the Elberta. Elbertas do not ripen evenly. One side can be beautifully ripe while the opposite side is still green. Who knew? So, the farmers, at least the ones in Porter, do not grow them. They either don’t grow them at all or very few. The Elberta is a freestone peach which means it is easier to get the pit or stone out. The characteristic deep red around the center of the fruit has been passed down to the new generations and varieties so the last time I went to the peach orchard, I bought a half-bushel of Ruston Reds. Nice and red and perfect for my peach butter.

Typically, when you’re buying peaches, you want to choose the ones that are slightly underripe especially if you’re buying a lot so you can finish ripening them at home. If you’re going to eat them right away, obviously get a ripe one. I buy them a little under because I never know when I’m going to start my peach butter making and I don’t have a lot of room in my fridge to put up a half-bushel of peaches. A half-bushel is about 60 to 65 peaches.

How do you choose a peach? You want one that is a yellow, to yellow red color with no green (unless you’re doing most of the ripening). It should be mostly blemish-free and should give slightly when you press on the fruit. In other words, you don’t want one that is hard as a rock. And don’t press so hard that you bruise it. When you’re buying a large quantity, you won’t be able to test all the peaches so just test a few on the top and then you trust the grower; the rest of the peaches in the container should be comparable to the ones on top. The orchards in Porter were damaged by hail this past spring so a lot of the peaches are not “pretty”, and they sell them as “ugly” peaches. You know what? Ugly peaches eat just like pretty peaches and if you’re making peach butter (like me) or cutting them up for a pie or cobbler, who cares what they look like? I say, buy peaches locally even if they’re ugly. Farm to table, my friends, farm to table. And you’re supporting the local farmers. Trust me, we need them.


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