Saturday, September 05, 2009

Just Peachy

I love a peach. Not just any peach, but a really good, sweet, juicy Freestone peach. The kind they grow in the Texas Hill Country.

Alas, they don’t build peaches the way they used to. I had a couple of peaches last week that looked an awful lot like a peach, same size as a peach, same fuzzy demeanor, even a faint whiff of peach.

My hopes, as always, rose, but after the first bite, they were dashed. Though disappointed, I was not surprised when each in turn ended up as mealy, dry, pale imitations of what I wanted. These were strip-mined peaches from California, with flavor and juice bred out of them and “shippability” bred in. They will travel for days in a truck from coast to coast and not have much more than a slight contusion on the stem end, or a mere scrape across the cheek.

Flavor? No. But durability in spades.

The peaches that I long for are the ones from Kerrville and Fredricksburg that are as big as my fist (a pretty big fist) and so sweet and juicy you need a pancho and an insulin shot when you eat them.

When I was a kid (here it comes, Geezer Alert), I remember hopping barefooted across the asphalt griddle that was the parking lot of the Weingarten’s grocery store and into the cool air-conditioned store. The chilled floor soothed my feet and from the produce aisle off to the right the unmistakable aroma of peaches overtook me from twenty feet away. The Hill Country peaches were in.

As a young tough in high school, I recall a certain teacher, Mr. Christian, who would come by my Mother’s workplace and take orders for Fredricksburg peaches, by the half–bushel box. We usually got at least four and sometimes more when he arrived back in town. Then as a kid at home during the summer, my job was to peel and slice as many as I could. The resulting bounty was subsequently frozen, preserved or just sliced and sugared to go in a plastic tub in the refrigerator. These were used for every day tasks such as corn flake duty, Blue Bell ice cream accompaniment or to put in the milkshakes we used to make.

It was a job that was never like a job; something I didn’t mind doing at all. I would start at the pointed end and peel downward to the stem end (the peel came right off that way) and then run the knife around longitudinally, then a final lateral double circumnavigation into the big bowl in my lap, tossing the stone in a bag. Time after time, peach after peach and I never tired of the scent or the fuzz or the juice running from my fingers to my hand to my elbow.

My aunt Winnie, Grandaddy’s sister, had a peach tree in her back yard in Galveston. I used to accompany my grandparents there to pick peaches and figs. The peaches were grand, and I distinctly remember a picture of peaches backlit by the morning sun on Heard’s Lane and as I touched the skin, the tiny hairs falling off into the breeze in a faint cascade of shimmering dust. I wish you all could see the picture I have in my head from that vantage point. The act of purchasing your fruit with your own physical exertion; climbing the tree, holding on to the bucket, reaching for the perfectly ripe fruit that come to you hand as willingly and as gently as a drop of water coming off of a leaf.

It’s been years since I had eaten a peach that lived up to all I have just described to you. Too many times I have sniffed, squeezed and bitten only to be disappointed or even repulsed. There are peaches that I won’t tolerate past my teeth.

We went to New Branufels last year, the final “full-blown-whole-family-we’re-having-a-great-time-aren’t-we vacation. On the way to Canyon Lake, we saw a roadside stand next to a sun-bleached F150 with little buckets of “FREDRICKSBURG PEACHES”, so the sign said. Following an afternoon at the lake, we had to stop and sample some of their wares.

The friendly feller said that they were $5 a bucket, and though they looked awful small to me, I succumbed and forked over my five. Walking back to the van, I felt a little cheated; these things were not even the size of a tennis ball. Oh, well.

On the way back to the hotel, my middle daughter couldn’t stand the thought of those peaches sitting untouched, so she snagged one. Upon tasting the flesh of it, she exclaimed loudly, attesting to what I had only hoped for. “These are SO GOOD!” etc.

I had her select one for me while the other girls eagerly grabbed one of their own to sample. When I bit into it, I felt like letting go of the wheel and flying off to heaven on my own. It was the peach that I have searched for over the last twenty years. The Hill Country Peach that I remembered was disappearing down my gullet. Memories flooded back and the Geezer rose up in his seat, looked into the rearview mirror and intoned the sacred words, “Girls, THAT’s what a peach should taste like”.

And it is true.


innominatus said...

I may have just now figured out why I like canned peaches better than the real thing: I bet I've never had a real peach. The bulletproof California peaches are all that ever show up in our produce sections.

We planted a peach tree in our backyard when I was a kid. It was about 5' tall when we planted it, and it was about 6' tall several years later when it (finally) died. Never produced a thing. What a tease.

Anonymous said...

BIG TOE said...

Oh my! My mouth is watering just reading how you described the taste of those peaches. I have also been searching for the real peach, but they don't exist in our local grocery stores. A couple of years ago I was traveling through
Wharton Texas and saw a peach farm and stopped to buy fresh picked peaches. I could not help myself on the drive back home I ate a peach and was very disappointed. I do like the Raggedy Peaches in a can, only at HEB, My Dad told me about these canned peaches and how good they were. I can eat the whole large can of Raggedy Peaches in one sitting and not share. I think I need to take a drive to the hill country to get me some of those wonderful peaches. Yum! I love peaches.

DammitWomann said...

I am now craving peach cobbler! Gonna take a day road-trip in a couple weeks to pick some fruit. Just hope there are some good ones left.

BTW - I live in CA and have, on occasion, tasted local peaches as good as you describe.

aA said...

Big Tie: I worked myself into a peach frenzy while writing this, and remain in peach-crave mode. I'll check out the Raggedy Peaches, I have an "in" at HEB now!

My parents had some Georgia peaches from Frobergs the other day. Seemed pretty good.

DW: I realize that there are other peaches in other states that are sweet and juicy, it's just that the California peaches that arrive here are better when you eat the stone and the label. I hope you get your cobbler soon, email me some!

Rob V. said...

Great post, aA. Some of your best descriptive writing ever. Calls to mind the first time I bit into a fresh home-grown tomato, and said: "I only thought I'd eaten a tomato before, but this is the first real tomato I've ever eaten." Yes, the bland imitation fruits & veggies we get at the supermarket are a downright insult to the palate.

DammitWomann said...

aA - I have a gal-pal day now planned for 9/19 - to drive over 2 hours (each way), just to pick fresh fruit.

See what you have done....

Howlsatmoon said...

aA....those Hill Country Peaches that were as large as your fist?

They still are....just your fists are bigger now.

Sheesh the things I have to 'splain.....;)