Sunshine, soaring temps and peaches – these are the hallmarks of South Carolina summers.
Peach season is off to a robust start, and it won’t be long until their sweet aroma is the first thing greeting you at area markets. As the second-most prolific producer of peaches in the country (only California tops us), the state is brimming with peach pride. Our collective harvest (50,000 tons) might not be big enough to hold the top spot, but we savor our peaches with confidence that they’re the best-tasting of all.
I remember the first time I ate a South Carolina peach. It was 1985 – just a year after the peach was named the official state fruit – and someone presented me with a basket of blushing beauties grown on a farm in a funny-sounding place called “Mac B.” My teeth pressed into the skin, which loosened itself slightly and slid away from the flesh like a little flannel cloth that had been veiling a surprise underneath.
As I followed through with the bite, the first thing I registered was the juice – juice, juice everywhere! It was running down my chin, my wrist, my arm. I ran to the sink with the fruit still in my mouth and finished the task. As I devoured it, I was treated to a burst of super sweetness, contrasted deliciously by a bit of tartness. To say I was “wowed” is truly an understatement; I was blown away.
As far as I’m concerned, the bar was set that day, and I’ve yet to taste a peach from Georgia (which calls itself the “Peach State”), Alabama (where my late uncle, a produce market owner, insisted the best peaches were grown) or California (land of my birth and grower of some of the best grapes, plums and dates I’ve ever tasted) that reaches that pinnacle of peachy perfection.
Recently, some exciting peach news was announced. After years of effort, the Charleston chapter of Slow Food USA was successful in adding one of the state’s most famous peach varieties, the Lemon Cling, to the Ark of Taste, an international register of the world’s most historically significant and gastronomically notable endangered foods.
Each catalogued entry brings the nearly extinct food into the spotlight where farmers and food historians can consider it and craft a strategy to restore the food to its rightful place in our foodways. In testament to that, farmer Greg Johnsman has plans to begin growing the peach on John’s Island, a move that helps fulfill Slow Food Charleston’s mission to preserve the Lowcountry’s food traditions.
For a fascinating read, check out the “Ark of Taste” at slowfoodusa.org/ark-of-taste, where a regional search will show you many important foods from our area, such as Carolina Gold Rice, the Bradford Watermelon, the Carolina African Runner Peanut and more.
Thanks to such efforts, we can anticipate experiencing the Lemon Cling peach sometime in the future. For now, I’m eyeing the first of the peach crop and aim to hit a fruit stand or two (or three) on the way to the beach in July.
It’s hot, it’s summer and I’m getting restless for my favorite warm-weather treat. You could say I’ve got a fever and the only prescription is a perfectly ripened, incredibly juicy, unfathomably sweet South Carolina peach – the best on earth. (Cue the cowbell. …)