The internet erupted this month. Argument, controversy, and heated debate on all sides. The subject?
It all started with a mention on Facebook. The New York Times reported that food writer Kathleen Purvis, who happens to be one of our friends from the South, wrote, “Peaches should never be eaten before the Fourth of July. From there, one has six weeks to fill up.”
Upon first glance, this may not seem like an inflammatory remark, but in the South, we have strong feelings about our produce. Seasonality, best times to pick, and harvesting methods are things we think about. They are part of our lifelong educations surrounding regional food. And, it goes without saying, we Southerners know our peaches. South Carolina and Georgia produce more peaches than any other state in the South—we even have peach-shaped water towers to prove it. “U-Pick” peach orchards and side-of-the-road peach stands are ubiquitous in the humid heat of Southern summers.
Now, I know there are some peach stands in Georgia that disagree with Purvis’ statement. Their trees fill with peaches before the Fourth of July, and they pick their harvest, heavy on the fruit-laden branches, weeks before fireworks begin to illuminate Southern skies. There are countless legendary peach stands on the side of Georgia roads. These stands have baskets stacked high all summer, from May to August, filled with peaches ready to eat, cook, and preserve. These peaches are so succulent and sweet that when you dig in, you will probably need a spoon, or at least a napkin. You wouldn’t dare miss these peaches before the Fourth of July. Georgians sure don’t; they cook their peach recipes all summer, so long as the trees are producing and the peach stands are selling.
It’s true that Southern peach season varies by state and by peach type. The South is as wide and varied harvest-wise as it is linguistically and culturally. A North Carolina Fourth of July peach might be as delectable as a Georgia peach in June. (In fact, due to the trees and weather, it probably is.)
Originally imported from Asia, peaches now thrive in the heat of the South and elsewhere throughout the country. According to The New Southern Living Garden Book, peach varieties found in the South include ‘Belle of Georgia,’ a midseason freestone peach, ‘Redhaven,’ a medium-size peach that produces early in the season, and ‘Cresthaven,’ a tree that can produce peaches later in the season. All of these peaches differ slightly—some more widely than others—in terms of when in the season they produce their juicy crop. Because of these variations, the important thing is to do your research. Stop at roadside stands and get to know your state’s produce. You’ll find out for yourself the best time to gather your harvest and whip up your favorite seasonal dishes.
Speaking of seasonal dishes, we think that now is the perfect time to get in the kitchen and make some of our favorite summery peach recipes. Try our smoky Grilled Peach Cobbler, the cool and refreshing Peach Ice Cream, and our recipe for Peach Streusel Muffins to make the most of this season’s beloved stone fruit.
When you decide to eat a peach is up to you, but we hope you’ll support Southern farmers and savor one or two—or a basketful—of one our favorite fruits of the season.