I’ve got a bone to pick with our neighbor. It’s something that’s been brewing for quite some time now, and I just cannot let it go, as much as I want to. They’re relentlessly pushing propaganda on me, even though I firmly disagree with their agenda.
The neighbor I’m speaking of is the State of Georgia, and the propaganda they’re pushing is their claim to be The Peach State.
It’s just so over the top. I can’t put a quarter in a vending machine without the risk of seeing that peach glaring back at me. They’ve pasted peaches on every highway sign in their state. Atlanta alone has 71 streets with the word “Peach” in the name. Their license plate features the ripe, red fruit. There’s the Peach Bowl (College Football Playoff Game), the Peach Pass (toll collection device), and who knows what else? When ringing in the New Year, many Georgians count down and wait for the peach to drop.
All this, when there is actually very little evidence to show Georgia spent much time as the leading grower of peaches in this country. In fact, South Carolina has consistently outpaced Georgia, 3 to 1, in peach production for years now, making it a much more appropriate choice for the title of The Peach State. For anyone keeping score, California is number one, followed by South Carolina, and then Georgia follows at a distant third. Oddly enough, New Jersey is fourth in the standings.
This whole Peach State designation is a function of branding, meaning the State of Georgia has Kardashian’d the peach industry. They didn’t even make The Peach State name official until 1995, which was well into their peach production decline period. Coincidentally, that’s also the year before the 1996 Atlanta Olympics. Oh, did someone need a simple, attractive graphic to burn into the brains of the entire world? Why not blueberries? Georgia is a very close second to Washington state for blueberry production. Were blueberries not a good enough brand? How about peanuts? Georgia is far and away the greatest producer of peanuts in this country, earning it its lesser-known nickname of The Goober State. And yet there is no “East Goober Road NW” leading me the wrong way through downtown Atlanta.
It’s plain and simple that Georgia saw a successful marketing strategy in the peach and they bit right into it. It’s genius. But it doesn’t mean I have to be happy about it. We’ve been hijacked! Maybe this is how Florida feels when they see us flying our awesomely sweet Palmetto flag all over the place. “The Palmetto State” can only realistically support Palmetto trees on maybe 1/8 of its land. We’re all thieves, I suppose. Sigh. With it this hot outside, I really shouldn’t let myself get so agitated. Stress is bad for a peaches and cream complexion, you know. So, let me take a deep breath and get a swig of tea (or something stronger) while I lay some peach knowledge on you all today. The truth shall set us free!
Fact: Peaches were first cultivated in China, and the Chinese continue to grow the most in the world. Typical, right? First is not always best, though. The first cultivated peaches were nothing like our luscious ladies. They were small, tart, and fuzzier than the ones we’re accustomed to. Also, be warned that peaches grown in China aren’t subject to very strict rules concerning growing practices and various chemicals. Ew. Even though they may be playing fast and loose with things like food safety, the Chinese do recognize what a wonder they’ve given the world. In China, the peach is considered a symbol of good luck, protection, and longevity. I can agree with that, but I’ll keep my peach purchases local, thankyouverymuch.
Fact: There are 175 varieties of peaches. But you only really need to know two classifications: Freestone or Clingstone, and White or Yellow. “Freestone or Clingstone” refers to the type of pit, or “stone,” in the peach. Clingstones cling to the flesh of the fruit, while Freestones break free more easily. Clingstones are usually smaller, a little less flavorful, and used mostly for canning. Early summer peaches are almost always clingstones and, in my experience, most grocery store peaches are of the cling variety. Freestone peaches are harvested later in the summer, are usually larger, and tend to be bolder in color and flavor. Almost all peaches are “yellow.” Even if the skin looks reddish, they are still considered yellow. “White” peaches have skin with a pinky, green-ish tone, and the insides are considerably lighter in color. White peaches are less acidic, making them taste sweeter. They are also notoriously delicate, and will immediately bruise if you just give them the side-eye. More tender than an organic banana from Whole Foods, you’ll need to transport these home on a satin pillow, or better yet, just eat them in the car.
Fact: Peach pits are poisonous. Peach pits contain amygdalin, which converts into cyanide when ingested. Great. Another reason for my kids to complain about the woody remainder of the pit left on their slice. But that doesn’t mean you can’t say “It won’t kill you!” with full confidence. It takes about 100 grams of a peach pit to get enough cyanide to really do any damage, and most pits only weigh between 1 and 2 grams. So, if you’re looking for a way to get back at your spouse, or your neighbor’s dog, keep looking. Also, delete all mentions of me from your internet history. I’ve got enough problems without having to be on your Dateline episode.
Fact: Peaches are good for you. Full of vitamins and only about 40 calories per fruit, peaches also aid in digestion and act as a diuretic. It’s been said that peaches are stress relievers, mood-enhancers and good for the libido. Doubtful of those claims? Test it out yourself with a simple summertime cocktail. Start with a generous pour of Deep Eddy’s peach vodka, then top it off with just enough club soda so as to not look like a complete lush. Garnish with a carefully placed ripe peach slice and a sprig of mint. Now bask in the glow of your newfound status as a farm-to-table cocktail master.
Fact: SC Peaches are the best. OK, so I’m being liberal with my facts here, but I think I could get several people on my side with this one. Our little corner of the world is able to provide the finicky peach tree the alkaline soil and climate it needs to thrive: cold, but not too cold in the winter, and a spring that doesn’t get too warm too early. This delicate balance yields a fruit that is just as complex as the weather patterns and soil conditions it requires to flourish.
Sadly, 2017 may be a year that the balance could not be achieved. Information varies by source, but some estimates claim that 50-90% of SC’s peach crop could be lost this year. An unseasonably warm winter caused the trees to bloom early and those blooms were then ravaged by a late-March freeze. (The lesson I’m taking away here is, don’t show up too early for the party.) It’s an unfortunate set of events, but not one that seasoned peach growers haven’t experienced before. If it’s not a late freeze, then it’s a drought, or a hailstorm, or a 100-year flood. The good news is, that there’s a better than decent chance that the late-season peaches (in my opinion, the best ones) will not suffer as great a loss. Further good news for peach lovers is that local growers are stating that their wholesale crops are the ones most affected, and that the roadside offerings will still be substantial and tasty. If you buy your peaches at the grocery store, you may see less selection and higher prices. So, get your hiney to a roadside farm and have a real peach! A great one to visit is Fischer’s Orchard in Greer, SC. http://www.fishersorchard.com/
Fact: Cobblers are universally loved. Want to know how to win friends and influence people? Show up to your next gathering with a warm peach cobbler. It’s sweet and tart, warm and gooey, buttery and crunchy. It is all the things, all at once. There will be no leftovers, so be warned that more than one person may try to follow your dish home. I took a cobbler to a party this weekend, and I’m pretty sure I have at least one stalker now. (I see you, Linda. Don’t make me call the cops.)
Call the Cops Peach Cobbler
adapted (a.k.a. stolen) from the recipe for Easy Fresh Peach Cobbler in Tea-Time at the Masters
2 c. peaches, peeled and sliced
½ c sugar
1 stick butter
1 c sugar
1 c sifted plain flour
1 ½ tsp baking powder
pinch of salt
Mix peaches with ½ cup sugar. Let stand for 30 minutes or until juice forms. Melt butter in 2-quart baking dish. Make batter of remaining ingredients. Pour batter over butter, then pour fruit and juice over batter. DO NOT STIR. Bake at 350 for 30-45 minutes. Serves 8-10.
Y’all, it is so good. If you serve it warm with a side of real vanilla ice cream, you will be the belle of the ball, I guarantee it. Peachy keen!