Monday, June 08, 2009

Picking Peaches

As the swallows return to Capistrano, the Porters return to Stonewall each summer for peach season. Stonewall, which is in Gillespie County, about an hour from our house, grows the finest peaches in the country. No one is even a strong second. All summer long ,one variety after another ripens and you can make several trips during any given summer to purchase peaches, peach jam,, peach butter, peach preserves, peach cobbler, peach pie and peach ice cream, (frozen or soft serve).


But now and then, and it seems more often lately, a late freeze will ruin the crop. I ran into a friend of mine from Gillespie county a few weeks ago and he told me that the crop would be lean this year because of a late freeze. They may as well have canceled summer, what’s the sense in going on now except for watermelons and tomatoes ? But, ever hopeful Rayda, in trying to pull me out of a blue funk, suggested yesterday that me drive to Stonewall.


I once had a peach tree. It conveyed with a home we owned for awhile. Virtually every year I would get me hopes up for a great harvest. One year I even succeeded. But it is hard to fight the birds for the peaches. I tried everything, nets, little plastic black cats which I hung from the tree, nothing worked, except for that one magical year when the birds left us alone. Perhaps there was some kind of bird flu going around or perhaps there were just better things to eat that year. At any rate, it never happened again, which was too bad, they were good peaches. Not Gillespie county good, but pretty good for your backyard.


I think that the real reason that Rayda wanted to go to Stonewall is so that we could stop in Johnson City and eat at the Silver K Café. The Silver K replaced the Country Cupboard (or maybe it’s the Kountry Kubbard ) as our “go to" Johnson City eatery couple of years ago when we asked a young girl behind the counter what kind of pie was sitting there. She poked it and pulled out a finger, pronouncing it “apple”. So much for the Country Cupboard.


The Solver K is a little fancy for Johnson City, they even have a Sunday brunch with a carving station  and serve wine. But we can’t hold that against them and at least they don’t poke their pies, that we know of. We eschewed (gesundheit) the brunch for lighter repast so as not to slow us down as we entered peach country a little later.


As we drove into Stonewall we saw one of our usual haunts virtually empty. The large open warehouse where the peach machines tumble the peaches into peach boxes for shipping to your favorite grocery store was not working. No fruit seemed available. “I don’t like the looks of this” I muttered, and drove on. The next orchard, another favorite, at least had some people out selling something. In peach season it’s all hands on deck for the peach farmer’s family. Traditionally dad and grandpa greet the customers and there is always a young teen out helping, looking like she would rather be at the mall. Inside is the wife who is in charge of the ice cream, baked goods and jams. I saw dad and a teen, maybe Grandpa died, although the old Germans who own these places seem to live forever. Especially the mean ones, of which there are a few. We exited the car and approached the stand.


There before me were several boxes of peaches for sale, but right away I knew that something was amiss, and that what was amiss were Gillespie County peaches. I looked the farmer hard in the eye. “Those are not from your orchard are they ?” I asked.” No sir”, he admitted, “we had a freeze, those are Mexia peaches.” He looked sheepish, I’m sure that it is a humbling experience for a Stonewall farmer to sell Mexia peaches. Now your Mexia peach is not a bad peach, as compared to a Georgia or California peach, peaches which are grown for their size and showiness to display better at  your local Safeway. I’m sure that people in California and Georgia enjoy their peaches because they have been provided anything better. I’m sure that people in Vermont eat something they think is barbeque. But it is not the real thing. The difference in your Mexia Peach and your Stonewall Peach is like the difference in Filet Mignon and Hamburger. Both are good, but only one is memorable. The best thing about your Mexia peach is that they ripen earlier and so you can buy them by May and have something to remind you of how much you are going to enjoy the real thing in a couple of weeks. For some reason it never freezes in Mexia.


Well, we bought some Mexia peaches, for the same reason I buy books at an independent bookstore, in hopes that I can stave off the day when every bookstore will be Barnes and Noble. Someday all of these Germans (most likely the ones who are teenagers now) will realize how much easier life is if you sell an orchard as a going concern to Delmonte or whoever the hell owns peach orchards these days. Then you can move to Austin and live like the rest of us do. One step removed from the soil. We bought some tomatoes and some blackberries and even had some ice cream although we were told that it was made from Peach Butter and not fresh peaches. It tasted a little cinnamony and did not have the fresh flavor of the real thing. We drove back less than saddened because we had at least done our part to keep Stonewall going.


It was not all in vain. The farmer assured me that about July 15, one of the other  varieties would be out, that they had not been destroyed like the others. This gave me hope to hold onto , a better day was coming.


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