We anxiously await their arrival in summer and seek out the best ones at Farmer’s Markets, grocery stores, produce stands, and the bed of farmer’s trucks. We call our friends and family to let them know who’s got peaches.
The clingstones are harvested starting in early to mid-May through August. They are so named because the flesh clings to the stone. I always feel that I’m somewhat cheated by clingstones since I want every last bit of that delicious, sweet yellow flesh, but the flesh clings stubbornly to the stone despite skillful slicing.
Then, in late May, the heavens open up and we are showered with freestone peaches. The name is just as straightforward as clingstone: the flesh is easily loosened from the stone not wasting one little bit. As soon as you open the peach, you are greeted by the colors of a sunset: yellow, orange and red. The flesh covering the seed is red, and the rest is yellow to orange. It’s not often you get to hold a sunset in your hand. That only happens from the end of May through August.
Although I can’t document it, I’m sure my introduction to peaches was before I could sit alone. At the time of my birth in July, smack-dab in the middle of peach season, we lived with my Alabama grandparents. My grandmother would scour the countryside for Chilton County peaches and sing and shout when they finally arrived in Geneva County. As much as she loved those peaches, feeding folks, and babies, I can’t imagine her not going for the Grand Slam and enjoying all three loves at once during the first peach season of my life: feeding a peach to a baby.
Granny, and her Southern diction, had her own name for the classification of peaches. They were “clang (cling) seed” and “clare (clear) seed”. The names seemed to be generally accepted in her neck of the woods. While I do use the terms clingstone and freestone, I refer to the pit as a seed, not a stone. The seed doesn’t fall far from the tree.
My first child, Marcia, was born in September. During the peach season of my pregnancy, I craved “clare seed” peaches. The farmer’s market just down the road had baskets and baskets of Chilton County peaches. I would make several trips a week, buy a basket, and then hide it from my husband. Before you start to think I’m a selfish hog, just bear with me a minute. I would share them, but I wanted to be in charge of the distribution. Running slap-dab out of peaches was a situation I intended to avoid. My mother came to visit once during the peach-eating frenzy. When I told her how many peaches I had been eating, she declared, “That baby is going to be made out of peaches!” Her next sentence was, “Let’s go down to the Farmer’s Market. I want to buy you a basket of peaches.” My line of ancestors shows their love through food. Our DNA has been altered.
Marcia was eight months old the beginning of her first peach season. I had given her baby food peaches, but I couldn’t wait for her to get her first taste of a juicy “clare seed” peach. It only seemed natural that this child who was “made out of peaches” would devour her first peach and start looking for the second. I picked the juiciest peach I could find, peeled and mashed it well. I even added a tiny bit of sugar to cut some of the sharpness of the ripe fruit. Marcia was in her high chair, bibbed, and ready for the coronation.
I spooned the fragrant, juicy bite of sunset in her opened mouth. I was grinning. Marcia smacked, looked at me and shivered from head to toe like I had just put unripe persimmons in her mouth. This child would eat anything, but she rejected the Chilton County “clare seed” ripe, juicy, hand-picked-by-her-mama peach. Surely, this was a fluke. The second try would be better. We got the same results on the second try. I was so disappointed, and I didn’t know what to do with this information. Thinking the texture was the problem more than the flavor, I added a little milk for some creaminess. Half of me was afraid to try again; however, the other half was the boss that day, and I spooned some of the milk and peach mixture into her little mouth. She swallowed it eagerly. What a joy! Another generation of Chilton County “clare seed” peach-eaters was born.
I rarely find Chilton County peaches where we live. Most of the peaches shipped to Florida are from South Carolina, and they are delicious. We eat lots of them. I’ve made plenty of wonderful peach cobblers using South Carolina peaches. We just don’t have the connection with those peaches. My wish is that I will be able to feed my grandchildren some Chilton County peaches so the legacy will continue. If I were a betting person, I would bet on my figuring out a way to make that happen. The bond between generations of my family and Chilton County peaches is too strong to be broken. I think about it every time I see the sunset.
Rustic Peach Pie
Yield: one 9 to 10 inch pie
Preheat oven to 375 degrees.
A simple pie made from a sweetened peach filling that tops a single pie crust. The pie crust edges are lightly folded back over the peaches. No crimping is needed. Fresh or frozen peaches can be used. If frozen, defrost before using.
4 cups sliced peaches, frozen or fresh. If frozen, thaw before using
Juice of one lemon
1/2 cup all-purpose flour
1 cup granulated sugar
1/2 teaspoon ground cinnamon
A crust for a single 9-inch pie, homemade or store-bought
1 tablespoon half and half or cream
1 tablespoon raw or granulated sugar
Place peaches in a large bowl and add lemon juice. Gently toss.
Add flour, sugar, and ground cinnamon to a small bowl and mix. Add flour mixture to peaches and gently mix.
Roll out crust to a 12-inch circle on parchment paper or a baking mat and place on a baking sheet. Don’t stress over the shape. It doesn’t have to be perfect.
Gently pour peaches in center of crust and spread out leaving approximately a 2-inch border.
Fold edges of crust over the filling. Lightly brush the edges of the crust with half and half and sprinkle with sugar.
Bake in a 375 preheated oven for 55 minutes or until the crust is brown and the filling is bubbly.
Remove from oven and cool before slicing.