Wednesday, July 19, 2017

PEACH PILGRIMAGE



In the third verse of “From Blossoms” by Li-Young Lee, the poet writes: “…to hold the fruit in our hands, adore it, then bite into/the round jubilance of peach,” a verse that The Writer’s Almanac advises readers to enjoy “with a juicy, delectable, gold glowing farmer’s market peach in hand…”

Such delectables are often difficult to find in local markets, but for three years we have followed the tip of our good friend Kathy Hamman and traveled across the border into Alabama to get our supply of this fruit each summer. Crow Mountain Orchards in Fackler, Alabama is only an hour’s drive from our base here at Sewanee, Tennessee and is a closer destination than orchards in Georgia, South Carolina and Hill Country, Texas that produce some of the most delicious peaches in the nation (although I’ve heard that the orchards in the middle of California gold country are close rivals). 

Crow Mountain Orchards are owned by Bob and Carol Deutscher who cultivated the orchards of peaches, nectarines, apples, pears, berries, and cherries on 150 acres at a 1700 ft. elevation during the 70’s. They advertise that although most orchards in the southeastern U.S. had shortages of peaches this year, Crow Mountain peaches have produced a gracious plenty. 

We traveled to the distribution offices of the peach orchard following a description that appeared on their web site, making “16 turns before reaching AL Rt. 79 from Winchester,” that took us from the Winchester valley to Bear Hollow Mt. Wildlife Area. Along the way, we passed the Wall of Jericho, four Holiness churches, dense forests, and roadsides with abundant Queen’s Lace that had escaped the mowers. The turn-off onto Rt. 39 from Rt. 33 does boast a Crow Mountain sign, which only appears at that point, and we were prepared for the route into the “boonies” where the orchards are located.

Dark clouds hung over us as we entered a market filled with customers from states surrounding the Alabama site. Although the owners’ daughter was busy ringing up sales, I began to question her.

“What’s the name of the variety of peaches I’m buying?” Signs advertised numbers only.

“I really don’t know,” she confessed. My 88-year old father still works seven days a week in the orchards, and he’s planted so many varieties, we’ve lost track of the names.”



I picked up a carton of what I know to be “juicy, delectable, gold glowing farmer’s market peaches,” passing over the pears that appeared to be fruit that would make good preserves. The memory of my grandmother standing over a stove making pear preserves during Louisiana summers without air conditioning is engraved in my memory! When she died, we discovered pantry shelves filled with pear and fig preserves without dates marked on the rusting lids. All that hot work for uneaten fruit! Actually, I think that “putting up preserves,” as 20th-century cooks called the process, meant that you were a thrifty homemaker and a good cook, a reputation that women of that era coveted.

As we left the Crow Mountain market, dark clouds opened up, and we went home through a heavy rainfall that cleared when we reached the valley. Because of the rainfall we were unable to get photos of the peach orchards, which are picked daily, according to Deutscher’s daughter, but did manage a shot of this beautiful fruit before we began to devour it. No doubt about it —Crow Mountain peaches rank right up there with the over 130 million Georgia peaches produced last year. However, in my opinion, the ones that surpass all others are produced somewhere in South Carolina and marketed near the border of the Outer Banks of North Carolina where an entourage of the Sullivan family and I spent a week in a vacation home, making peach cobbler several nights in a row.




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