Meg McKinney Simle / Styling Rose Nguyen
It's time for a pit stop. Countless travelers flying south for the summer via I-65 instinctively brake when they see the giant peach just off Exit 212. The water tower hovers above the tree line like a setting sun. Birmingham is 40 miles behind and Montgomery is 30 miles ahead, but neither city offers what Chilton County can. This towering testament to the fruit that makes the region famous means two things: First, you're slap in the middle of Alabama's peach country; and second, you better take a nearby exit if you want the freshest and the sweetest.
The Buzz on the Fuzz
Looking for the freshest? Around 8 a.m. every day in the summer, the staff at Durbin Farms Market begins unloading crates of peaches picked in their orchards earlier that morning. Stop here, just off Exit 205, at our choice for the best market in the county. You'll probably find owner Andy Millard milling among the baskets and boxes of produce. A 10-year veteran of the peach biz, Andy can help you find every type of peach to meet your need.
Depending on the harvest, Durbin Farms usually carries about 15 varieties of peaches in June. The best for chomping on the spot is the white-flesh Scarlett Pearl or the Southern Pearl, because these are the sweetest. If you're looking to stuff a cobbler or two, try the more colorful yellow-flesh varieties such as Flavorcrest, Harvester, or Topaz. One important note is that freestone season for all the markets' varieties starts around June 20. "Freestone" means the flesh breaks cleanly away from the pit, a definite advantage if you're canning.
The market is busiest between 11 a.m. and 4 p.m. on the weekends, especially Sunday. "Everyone's returning from their vacations, and they want peaches to take home," says Andy. Don't worry if it's a little crowded when you stop by, because that gives you a great excuse to enjoy the other thing we love about Durbin Farms: the homemade peach ice cream. Order a double-scooped cone ($2.35) and relax. The recipe's high-quality cream and sugar-sweet peaches make this cool treat stand out.
Around the time they're stacking the first peaches of the morning at Durbin Farms, a gaggle of ladies is peeling them right across the interstate at Peach Park. Amid much gossip, the women peel and dice fruit (especially peaches) for the inside fruit bar, the freshest around. The perfect time to pull up to Peach Park is when your tummy's growling for lunch. Be sure to try the fruit bar ($2) with a barbecue sandwich plate ($4.95), and don't forget to order our favorite thing here--the fried peach pie ($1.95). Enjoy this half-moon-shaped delicacy while surveying the walls adorned with portraits of past Chilton County peach princesses, happily posing with the beautiful fruit.