“Ol’ man Simon, planted a diamond. Grew hisself a garden the likes of none. Sprouts all growin’ comin’ up glowin’ Fruit of jewels all shinin’ in the sun. Colors of the rainbow. See the sun and the rain grow sapphires and rubies on ivory vines, Grapes of jade, just ripenin’ in the shade, just ready for the squeezin’ into green jade wine. Pure gold corn there, Blowin’ in the warm air. Ol’ crow nibblin’ on the amnythyst seeds. In between the diamonds, Ol’ man Simon crawls about pullin’ out platinum weeds. Pink pearl berries, all you can carry, put ’em in a bushel and haul ’em into town. Up in the tree there’s opal nuts and gold pears- Hurry quick, grab a stick and shake some down. Take a silver tater, emerald tomater, fresh plump coral melons. Hangin’ in reach. Ol’ man Simon, diggin’ in his diamonds, stops and rests and dreams about one… real… peach.”
― Shel Silverstein, Where the Sidewalk Ends
Our friend was walking me through his miniature orchard on a ranchette near the Wyoming border. “We lost our peaches in a late frost,” he said sadly.
At the same time last year, Bill had quietly handed me a peach and a knife. “For me?” I said as I greedily slipped a slice into my mouth.
Amused, his wife watched me slurp and swallow what I soon learned to be their first peach of the season. If I hadn’t been so happy, I would have been embarrassed. Our friend, the amateur orchardist had carefully pruned his trees and watched the buds swell from limbs above a blanket of snow, hopefully winter’s last icy bite. If a late frost nips peach blossoms, the trees won’t bear fruit.
When I hear local peaches are ripe, I feel like dancing and singing. It’s love, all love.
Think about it: what is the difference between telling your lover, “I left you a sandwich and an apple” versus “I left you a sandwich and a peach”?
An apple is as common as a sandwich, but a peach is extraordinary. An apple is a hug; a peach is a kiss.
Two peaches rest on my kitchen counter top. These two peaches are South Carolina peaches. They were a gift. We are balancing our desire to eat these two peaches against a desire to appreciate them slowly. Timing is important. If we wait too long, they will ripen to mush. But if we eat them right now, they will be gone.
In the refrigerator are four peaches remaining from my visit to a local orchard where I chose between two kinds of yellow freestones. “Flaming Fury” won out over “Celebrity”, mostly for the name but also for its tempting burgundy and golden orange skin, and thus imagined gustatory magic.
People actually fight over peaches. Georgia claims to be “the peach state.” An iconic peach is on Georgia license plates and on its official state quarter. A giant peach drops from a downtown Atlanta building every New Year’s Eve. Peachtree Avenue, Peachtree Presbyterian Church. Peachtree Road Race. Peachtree Publishers. Peachtree Gifts. Peachtree — everywhere. However, according to a 2011 New York Times article*, South Carolina has rivaled Georgia peach production for years.
I grew up in Northern California where peach season lasts to October, which might account for California’s ranking first among the top four states in peach production. New Jersey, the original source of peach agriculture in the U.S., is ranked fourth. Not that any of this rivalry makes a huge difference. If we want to eat fresh peaches we will find them. If the local peach crop fails, Georgia is only five hours away.
A peach has a scientific name — Prunus Persica — erroneously assigned by Europeans who believed peach trees originated in Persia. Ancient Romans had called the fruit malum persicum, or Persian apple, which morphed to the French pêche. In truth, peach cultivation originated in China, a fact supported by early Chinese writings and art, and confirmed by contemporary scientific analysis. I hope Georgians won’t be too disappointed to hear that China ranks number one in international peach production.
Personally, I don’t care who produces the most peaches as long as someone does.
Here’s what a peach awakens in my sensory memories. Pealing and pitting peaches with my mother. Pulling a dusty quart jar of Elberta peaches from a basement shelf. Making peach ice cream for a church social. Driving down a Georgia highway off the beaten path in search of a Georgia peach and discovering a potter as well. Returning from South Carolina with a box of peaches perfuming the station wagon. Recalling how I could never convince a Vietnamese friend that a peach tasted better than a mango.
A typical peach weighs 3.5 ounces. When you eat a fresh peach, you consume 9.4g of carbohydrates, 8.39g of sugar, 1.5g of fiber, .25 gm of fat, and .91 gm of protein in addition to 20 vitamins and minerals. More than 80 chemicals contribute to a peach’s aroma. In comparison, a small apple weighs 4.8 oz and has 14g of carbs, 2.4g of dietary fiber, and 10.6g of sugar. You need to heat an apple to appreciate its perfume.
If you want to boost your carbs and dietary fiber, eat an apple, not a peach. If you want to savor an intoxicating aroma while sticky juice runs down your chin and eat the fruit believed by the Chinese to contribute to immortality and guard against evil, eat a peach.
I took a neighbor two peaches when I visited her this week. I’d like to think she will continue to enjoy a good life, free of evil, and attain immortality. No doubt her kind nature will reward her with a measure of immortality. I’d like to think a peach or two — the inspiration for a luscious poem by Li-Young Lee**; the subject of cultural lore and paintings by Manet, Monet, Renoir, and Cezanne; the cause of interstate marketing rivalries; the favored fruit of kings and emperors; the source of twenty vitamins and minerals — might also nourish her spiritually and physically.
* “Peach Rivalry Becomes War Between the Tastes” by Kim Severson. New York Times. July 27, 2011.
** “From Blossoms” by Li-Young Lee, from Rose. BOA Editions Ltd. 1986.
“‘Something is about to happen,’ he told himself. ‘Something peculiar is about to happen at any moment.’ He hadn’t the faintest idea what it might be, but he could feel it in his bones that something was going to happen soon. He could feel it in the air around him … in the sudden stillness that had fallen upon the garden.”
-Roald Dahl, James and the Giant Peach, which tells the tale of a giant peach growing from bean seeds then transporting James beyond the abuse of his childhood.