Wednesday, July 13, 2011

A Peach Of A Day

If spring in the Texas Hill Country is defined by its wildflowers, then summer in the hill country must be defined by its peaches. There are over one million peach trees in Texas, and these trees produce about one million bushels of peaches every year. In fact, one-third of all commercial peach production in the state is located in Gillespie County, right in the heart of the hill country. Much of the production in the county takes place right along U.S. Highway 290, in the 14 mile stretch between Fredericksburg and Stonewall.

When peaches are in season in the hill country, roughly mid-May through the end of July, there is almost nothing with respect to a peach you cannot purchase. In addition to the fresh fruit itself, you can buy canned peaches, dried peaches, peach ice cream, peach pie, peach cobbler, peach jam, peach jelly, peach bread, peach cookies, peach candy, peach muffins, peach salsa, peach syrup, peach butter, peach barbeque sauce, peach wine, and peach scented candles. If you love peaches and peach products, U.S. Highway 290 is a dream come true.

When making my historical treks through the hill country, I most often do it alone. It’s not that I prefer it that way, because I don’t. It’s just that most people don’t look upon spending a day in the sweltering Texas sun trying to locate obscure historical sites and overgrown graveyards to be that much fun. So, in an attempt to lure them into accompanying me, I offer an incentive. The incentive is in the form of something they like, but, which always comes at the very end of the trip, after my historical curiosities have been satisfied. When my boys were very young, I used the incentive of a trip to Florida to justify visiting every Civil War battlefield on the way there. Unfortunately for me, even a couple of young boys could figure out that a straight route from Ohio to Florida shouldn't wind its way through Pea Ridge, Arkansas. They also observed that all the battlefields looked about the same. After that, I was pretty much on my own while making historical trips, and it’s been that way ever since.

My wife loves fresh fruit, so, during peach season, it’s relatively easy to “encourage” her to accompany me out into the hot hill country, as long as we eventually end up in one of the peach orchards near Fredericksburg. But, before we leave, I always get the same “advice.” She normally says something like, “make sure you are prepared and know all the places you want to visit so we don’t ever have to go back.” For some reason, in her mind, a fresh peach is far more important than locating the exact location of a gunfight which took place 136 years ago. Go figure. At any rate, the other day we hopped in the truck and headed out.

My historical jaunt, which took most of the day I might add, was a complete success. After a day of driving on dirt roads, walking through old family cemeteries, and visiting the locations of several scenes of murder and mayhem during the 1870’s, we were finally ready to head to Fredericksburg. I had a great time, as I always do. My wife, while perhaps not having the time of her life, was very patient as she always is on these trips. My normal routine when I visit a point of interest is to get out of the truck with my camera and excitedly walk around the site taking hundreds of photographs from all angles. My wife’s normal routine is to sit in the air-conditioned truck, or under the shade of a big tree, and watch me taking photographs of a lot of very old and inanimate objects, while she thinks about peaches.

Having filled my historical quota for the day, it was now time for me to deliver on the incentive which I had promised -- peaches. Ironically, as we were driving on the road toward Fredericksburg, Billy Currington came on the radio singing, “God is great, beer is good and people are crazy.” Billy was born and raised in Georgia, a state which certainly knows a thing or two about growing peaches.

After arriving in the Fredericksburg area, we quickly located a PYO peach orchard (PYO is a short hand code for pick-your-own). But, picking peaches is a lot more complicated than simply showing up and pulling fruit off the trees. Things these days always seem to be more complicated than they should be.

First, the size of the box must be decided upon. For some reason, some peach filled boxes of a certain size are priced by the pound while other sized boxes are a flat price. Next, you have to decide what kind of peach you actually want to pick. There are many different varieties. On the day we visited, we had a choice of either picking “Red Globe” or “Majestic.” Sitting on a table in front of us was a bowl of both types of peaches, and they both looked and tasted exactly the same. Not being a connoisseur of fine peaches, I naturally asked what the difference was between the two varieties. “Well,” the man said slowly, “they both taste about the same.” Not satisfied with the explanation, I asked him why he grew different varieties if they both looked and tasted the same. “Well,” he drawled, “the trees are supposed to bear fruit at different times but they don’t.”

By now, anxious to get out into the orchard, I started to grab my box and head out, but was quickly halted. What came next was a long lesson on determining “the look” of a peach that was ready for picking. The man then proceed to pick up and show us a dozen peaches explaining subtle color variations in intricate detail and what it meant. “Some people think that a peach should be dark red,” he cautioned, “but that just means the peach has been sunburned.” He lectured on about looking for certain yellow and orange hues, and, if we happened to pick a peach with insect or worm damage, we had to put it in our box. Yeah right, I was thinking, we will certainly take that advice to heart. Apparently, other pickers felt the same way, as the orchard was littered with discarded peaches. But as we walked away with the box, he still had one more comment to make. Our "Professor of Peaches" called out to us as we strolled away, “Y’all don’t eat too many peaches when you’re out in the orchard please.” Another fine piece of advice he was offering up. It was well over a hundred degrees, and we certainly weren’t going to spend hours out in his orchard gorging ourselves on free peaches.

Despite the lengthy preparation necessary to teach us the proper peach picking etiquette, and the oppressive heat, we had a nice time. Walking up and down the many rows of trees in the orchard, it didn’t take us very long to pick a ¼ bushel box of delicious peaches. After a little more chitchat with the "professor," we paid for the peaches and left. My wife fell asleep soon after we got on the road heading home, and as I drove, I had time to reflect that despite our different interests, it had turned out to be one mighty fine day. It was, in fact, a peach of a day.

4 comments:

  1. I have to wonder if you went to Marburger's orchard... Mr Marburger has a variety of very tasty peaches.

    Loved your post, as I too, love the Texas Hill Country - sun, wind, and heat!

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  2. Tammy, thanks so much for reading my blog and for your nice comments. Hope you'll come back soon! As to which orchard, let me just say this, you certainly know your way around the best orchards in the hill country. All the Best. Bob

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  3. Hello! I love summer fruits, such as your wife ;) and I love to cook pies and desserts during the holidays. Not very easy to collect all the peaches I suppose, nice article!

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  4. Clarisse, thanks so much for your comment. You are right, summer fruits are the best!

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