Until I was 22 years old, I lived in three states. I was born in Alabama, started elementary school in South Carolina, and then moved to Albany, Georgia, where I lived until going off to college at 18 years old (in Georgia and Alabama). One of the products all three states are known for is their peaches. Georgia calls itself the Peach State, and the phrase Georgia Peach has been used for young women hailing from there (I don’t know if that is acceptable anymore!). Both Clanton, Alabama, and Gaffney, South Carolina have peach shaped and painted water towers that greet passers-through. The reason for the fame are the spectacular peaches that are produced in a broad belt of land just south of the Appalachian range and crossing all three states called the Piedmont. This area has just the right combination of soil, cold in the winter, and humid heat in the summer, to allow peach trees to produce large and sugar-sotted peaches that cover the hands in sweet sticky juice when partaken at one of the many roadside peach stands in the summer (they usually have boiled peanuts, too). Last summer I had a chance to attend my 40th high school reunion for the Albany High School class of ’79. While there I made it a priority to get both peaches and boiled peanuts and even smuggled some peaches back to California for my wife to taste a bit of heaven.
So my question of several years ago, given that peaches are a large commodity in California, was whether I could produce Georgia peaches in California. It has taken awhile, but I believe the peaches from my backyard are very close. Two years ago, the peaches from my two trees began to develop intense sweetness when I patiently waited for them to drop from the tree. One of the signs of a perfectly ripe peach is the expulsion of sugar that dries on the skin yet has no bruising. If taken immediately and eaten (or processed into a peach pie or cobbler) the intensity of the flavor leads to taste-bud ecstasy and an overall feeling of euphoria.
Last year we had great tasting peaches, but I did not thin them well enough, so there were many of them, but most relatively small. A “funny” thing happened though that seemed not so funny at the time. The peaches were so numerous that major branches broke off of both trees, one of which I had to severely prune back last winter. I made sure I left some fruiting branches, but the one tree looked pretty bad. One thing I didn’t do this year was spray with copper and horticultural oil intended to stop insects and control leaf curl. All I did was fertilize when the trees bloomed in February, and several times since with liquid fertilizer. I also made stake supports for the major limbs to keep them from breaking. When the peaches from the healthier tree set, I thinned at least one hundred peaches to give room for the rest to grow. The mangled tree simply did not set too many peaches so I did not need to thin them. From May until now came waiting except for fertilizing twice more. Finally about two weeks ago, color started appearing. A couple of peaches were blown off, so I took them in, waited a couple of days for them to ripen some more, and tried them, but alas they fell too early and had an almost mealy texture with virtually no sweetness. Fast forward to yesterday. I walked out to the “mangled” tree, a tree that has since exploded with new growth, and noticed that the peaches had begun to ripen nicely. One in particular had expelled some sugar, but was still hanging. I gently pulled it off the branch and held it in my hand. My hand only went around half of the peach! I have rather small hands, mind you, but still, that is a big peach (as you can see in the photo). I took it inside and laid it on the counter to show Lynn later. This morning, I noticed some slight bruising setting in, so of course I needed to cut into it and try it. I can say without a doubt that this massive fruit approached the Elysian standard of a Georgia peach. And that was only peach number one. By God’s grace, I hope to have and share many more over the weeks ahead.