Fruits of Summer

Indian PeachesTime to leave the poetry biz aside for awhile and write a little about food. Our local farmer’s market has kept us awash in fresh local produce all summer (when we’ve been in town), but the thing we love most are the peaches — well, those and the tomatoes and thai eggplant and corn and blueberries and eggs and… you understand (I hope!). There is one farmer who keeps us supplied with our favorite summer fruit from June to August, maybe even into September, thanks to the many varieties in his orchard. We’ve had white peaches and yellow ones, cling and freestone, but the latest are blood-red Indian peaches.

Though they are typically used for pickling, canning, or baking, we love to eat them raw. They are very fuzzy outside and a little firm and tart like a nectarine, but as long as you don’t think they ought to look and taste like a regular old grocery-store peach (often firm and flavorless if they’re shipped in from California), then they are absolutely delicious. And after months of sweeter, juicier fare, we revel in the dark red meat and the tangy flavor. We don’t even mind that they are a cling variety, having gotten a little bored with peaches that come right off the pit.

Growing up in Iowa, I never ate peaches like this. We had a peach tree in our back yard for awhile, though I don’t remember it ever producing very much. Our apricot tree did better for awhile, then died a noble death. Iowa winters were much better suited to apples, pears, and tart pie cherries. My parents also grew grapes, raspberries, and rhubarb–a fruit that’s hard to find in the South–so I’m used to a sweet summer bounty in the yard. Something was in season from June to October, and we always had enough to eat, freeze, and give to the neighbors.

We used to have a peach tree in our yard in Mississippi that did pretty well, until Katrina uprooted it. It produced one more harvest the next year, then died. It took us another year to give up hope entirely, and awhile longer to decide what and where to plant next. Now we have two peach trees that should bear in another year or two. We also have blueberries, quince, and figs, along with our garden full of tomatoes and peppers that don’t get enough sun to really do too well, but supply us with a little home grown produce now and then. And of course we have a forest of basil for the pesto we couldn’t live without.

And we’re very happy to have access to so many local varieties of heirloom peaches and other fruit. We’ve found a good farm for blueberries and picked a freezer full. We’ve bought blackberries and pears. Last year we even bought persimmons at the market and may try to pick some this year. And compared to grocery-store prices, the peaches and other produce we’ve bought at our local market have been dirt cheap — $3 – $5 depending on the size of the basket we choose, and a basket will easily last us a week, unless we decide to freeze some. And the flavor of locally grown, tree ripened fruit can’t be beat. So, if you’re near a local market and you see a strange-looking summer fruit, give it a try! It might be the best thing you’ve eaten in ages.

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