A Perfectly Easy Peach Pie - No. 19
How to pick a perfect peach - hint, use your nose!
I had a faint idea how emblematic the peach was to Georgia when I started my first job in Atlanta and found literally everything was named after the peach. This was years before GPS, and as a newcomer I had to navigate Peachtree Steet, Peachtree Road, Peachtree Industrial, and there was even a Peachtree City!
My apologies to South Carolina and Alabama where wonderful peaches are grown, but today’s newsletter is about Georgia, known as the Peach State ever since I can remember. And while other Georgia crops - blueberries? - might outsell peaches, my best advice for Georgia and peaches is to stay together a while longer, or at least until we can take full advantage of the peaches ripe and ready in the market right now.
Besides, I spent a good part of my life baking peach pies, pound cakes, and cobblers in Atlanta, years I won’t forget. I listened to the Allman Brothers’ Eat a Peach album as did everyone in the ‘70s, religiously ran the Peachtree Road Race on July 4, and lived for a short while in a lovely neighborhood called Peachtree Hills. But mostly, I spent my ATL summers eating warm, ripe peaches while standing over the kitchen sink and letting the juices run down to my elbow.
It’s Peach Week!
Today I share a favorite peach pie recipe (below) and some helpful ways to use up a whole box or bushel of ripe peaches. On Friday for my paid subscribers, I’ll tell you 10 more ways to cook with peaches in delicious and unexpected ways plus how to freeze peaches and share the story (and recipe, too) for my Aunt Mary Jo’s sun-cooked peach preserves. And there’s even a peach giveaway!
Magical Peaches from the Middle of Nowhere
Why did it take me so long to talk to a Georgia native - and now a Nashvillian - who was raised on the same Elberta peaches I loved? Stephen Rose and his wife Jessica are the creators/owners of The Peach Truck, a direct-to-consumer business that sells Pearson Farms Georgia peaches across America. They believe everyone - no matter your zip code - should experience what a real, honest-to-goodness summer peach tastes like. And without supermarkets to mess it up.
Stephen grew up on Pearson Farms peaches in Fort Valley, GA., which is south of Atlanta in a peach farming belt straddling the middle of the state. Or, as the locals say, “in the middle of nowhere.”
It was an idyllic childhood to hear Stephen talk about it. And once he moved to Nashville for a job, found the girl, and was married, he longed to take his wife back to Fort Valley in the peak of summer so she, too, could eat a peach.
“Once she had a peach right off the tree,” said Stephen on the phone last week, the rest was history.
Stephen and Jessica had jobs, but they knew their calling was to figure out how to get ripe, fragrant Georgia peaches to customers as quickly as possible. “The goal was to get that peach into your hands in 48 hours,” he said. “That’s the magic.”
So Stephen contacted Pearson Farms for the peaches. He already owned the forest-green ‘64 Jeep Gladiator truck that looked beautiful filled with peaches, and he and Jessica went to work selling the magic.
By the second summer season, they were able to quit their day jobs, and to date, they’ve sold millions of pounds of peaches and made a lot of people happy! They’ve written a beautiful Peach Truck Cookbook. And the family’s got a few more peach eaters in the house, too, with a daughter who is six and twin four-year-old boys.
Here is how the Peach Truck works. You place a pre-order for a box of freshly picked peaches and are told where and when in your area the Peach Truck Tour is coming to town. Then you go there and pick up your peaches. The Peach Truck Tour visits locations in 33 states.
You can also order peaches directly to your doorstep if one of the farm locations isn’t near you, as long as you don’t live in Arizona or California (which for agricultural reasons don’t allow Georgia peaches) or Hawaii or Alaska (because they’re just too far to ship.) Or if you live in Nashville you can buy Peach Truck peaches loads of places all summer long. (One of many reasons to love Nashville, right!?) Here is how to order some peaches.
But what does one do with a huge box of peaches?
Eat them over the sink.
Slice some into salads.
Share with friends.
Sweeten them with sugar and spoon over ice cream or yogurt.
Grill and place on top of a pepperoni pizza.
Freeze them. You’ll thank yourself!
And make peach preserves. More in this week’s Subscriber Friday.
Peaches: From China to the Georgia coast
Let me be clear, peaches are originally from China, not Georgia. Historian and author Alan Davidson said their cultivation spread westward from China into areas with suitable climates - to Persia and then Greece, to Rome, to Spain, and then to North America.
Peaches were introduced along the Georgia and Florida coasts by Spanish settlers in the 16th Century and cultivated by Franciscan and Jesuit missionaries as well as Native Americans. The early fruit was said to be hard and bitter and so bad it was fed to hogs or made into brandy.
After the Civil War and the end of slavery, when the South looked for new ways to use cotton-depleted soil, better peach varieties emerged. In 1872 Samuel Rumph planted an orchard of Elbertas in Marshallville, GA, and peach farming was on the map.
“Rumph was a fascinating guy who invented the refrigerated train box car to get those peaches off the tree and to New York City where all the people were,” Stephen said.
Elbertas became the iconic Georgia peach, still grown and harvested in late July, and loved by growers for their intense flavor and heritage. But they’re the color of a tennis ball when they’re ripe, which is why supermarkets don’t sell them and why the uninitiated don’t buy them. Elbertas also serve as a lesson about a peach’s ripeness.
How to Pick the Perfect Peach
“A red peach doesn’t mean a ripe peach,” Stephen said. To pick a ripe peach, smell it. “Shop with your nose.”
Then bring it home and if it’s not as ripe and soft as you’d like, let it ripen at room temp - not in the fridge! - in a fruit bowl or paper sack. Once the peach is soft and even more fragrant, eat it! Or to keep it a day or two longer, place the ripened peach in the fridge.
Pearson Farms grows the fragrant Elberta and about 39 other varieties that the Peach Truck ships, so depending on when you order you might get a July Prince or an Elberta or even a white peach.
Which makes discovering all the varieties of peaches a summer rite of passage. I do love the fragrant, almost floral taste of a white peach. When I found out they had been harvested, my husband hurried down to our farmer’s market and bought a couple sacks of white peaches.
They’re finishing up ripening in the Peach Truck brown paper bags on my kitchen counter, and when they are fragrant and soft to the touch, I’ll slice them into salads or onto a grilled Manchego cheese sandwich for lunch. And my plan for the July 4 potluck? Alternate white peach slices with tomato on a massive and totally over-the-top Caprese salad.
Or I’ll bake a peach pie like my mother did or just stand at the kitchen sink, eating a ripe peach and letting the juices flow down to my elbow.
How do you use fresh peaches?
A Peach Truck Giveaway and sun-cooked peach preserves this Friday
It’s my self-proclaimed Peach Week so to continue with the peach festivities, this Friday I’ll dish out 10 More Fabulous Ways to Cook with Summer Peaches plus my Aunt Mary Jo’s recipe for sun-cooking peach preserves. A real hands-off recipe! And so good! Not a paid subscriber? Don’t miss out on the Friday ideas, recipes and monthly random subscriber giveaway, which this month - I am thrilled to announce! - is a box of Peach Truck peaches delivered straight from the tree to lucky you. You’ve got til midnight central time June 30 to sign up for a chance to win those peaches!
I’m thinking you might want to listen to the Allman Brothers’ Eat a Peach on Spotify while you’re baking this pie.
And now, Ella’s Easy Peach Pie ....
Our friend Ella Beasley is a gifted cook, and her simple method of baking a fruit pie has been a family favorite for the past 10 years. We haven’t needed any other pie recipe because can use any fruit in season - peaches, plums, blueberries, blackberries, as long as the fruit is soft. I love 100 percent peaches or a combination of 80 percent peaches and 20 percent blueberries. The rest of the ingredients should be in your kitchen, as long as you keep some frozen pie crusts handy. (If you think it a sacrilege to use frozen pie crust with fresh peaches, then go ahead and make your own homemade pie crust!) The pie bakes in less than an hour, so have patience, as it will slice more evenly if you let it rest at least 15 minutes. If not, spoon it like a cobbler and pass the vanilla ice cream!
Makes 8 servings
Prep: 15 to 20 minutes
Bake: 50 to 55 minutes
Two 9-inch frozen pie crusts, or homemade
3/4 cup sugar, divided
1 1/2 tablespoons all-purpose flour
7 medium firm-ripe peaches, peeled, pitted and sliced (3 full cups)
Juice of 1/2 lemon (1 tablespoon)
2 tablespoons butter
2 tablespoons milk
1 tablespoon sugar
1. Place a rack in the center of the oven, and preheat the oven to 350 degrees.
2. Place one pie crust on a cookie sheet. Or, transfer the crust to a 10-inch cast iron skillet. Spoon 1/2 cup of the sugar into the bottom. Stir the flour into the sugar. Scatter the sliced peaches and their juices on top of the sugar and flour. Sprinkle the remaining 1/4 cup sugar over the peaches. Squeeze the lemon juice over the peaches. Cut the butter into small squares and scatter these on top.
3. Cut the remaining pie crust into 1/2-inch strips and layer these over the top of the peaches like latticework, making sure to secure the strips to the bottom crust at the sides by pressing the strips into the crust. Brush the top of the crust with milk, and sprinkle with the tablespoon of sugar.
4. Place the cookie sheet with pie in the oven and bake until the crust is golden brown and the juices bubble up from under the crust, 50 to 55 minutes. Let the pie rest 15 minutes before slicing.
Last but not least! American Cake and American Cookie giveaway.
It’s A 4th of July Cookbook Giveaway sponsored by my publisher. Don’t miss this chance to enter a sweepstakes for a two-book set of American Cake and American Cookie. Contest begins today and ends on the 4th. Happy 4th of July!!