Stopping at one of the open markets in Barney, Georgia (east of Thomasville), is really fun, especially now that peaches are ripe. You will find other delightful produce as well: cantaloupe, corn right from the field, sun ripened tomatoes with a taste like none other, Vidalia onions, wonderful watermelons, and crook-neck yellow squash. You may also browse through attractive displays of pickles, jellies, and sauces. The oddest one, I thought, was the whiskey barbecue sauce.
Choosing vegetables and fruits is better (well, almost) than a Christmas shopping spree, but it can be tiring. So when you need to rest a bit and enjoy some refreshment, buy a cup or cone of fresh peach or blueberry ice cream and sit at a table under a cooling fan (social distance honored), or settle at a table out under a big pecan tree. Beautiful hibiscus and bougainvillea are a feast for your eyes at Luck and Moody market as you enjoy your ice cream right down to the last lick. Or just a short way down the road, at Burton Brooks Market, you can shop and then walk about eating ice cream while taking in details of several antique cars.
On past the markets heading east you will find the orchards. Burton Brooks owns acres, rows on rows, of peach trees. I was reminded of the peach orchards in north Georgia where Daddy used to buy several bushels at a time for our family to “put up” for winter.
Peach days were full and wonderful. When else would our whole family sit in a circle and play guessing games all day? Mamma was in the kitchen sweating over the hot cookstove, along with one of my older sisters, canning dozens of jars of bright, beautiful fruit. The rest of us from the littlest up were peeling and paring peaches. Daddy stored the peaches in the cool cellar and brought buckets of the ripe ones to us as he sorted them. He sometimes entered into our games and chatter and was always coaching us on peeling thin so as not to lose any of the goodness.
We made up riddles, the sillier the better, recited poetry, and told jokes. Sometimes someone was chosen as a reader so we could all listen to a book like “The Adventures of Tom Sawyer” by Mark Twain. The games? Initials was our favorite. We would guess initials of famous writers, artists, politicians and inventors, as well as those of local friends and leaders. The field was wide open for choices and the rules simple with questions requiring only a “yes” or a “no.” Another game was to see who could answer more quickly naming capitals of countries, US states, and books of the Bible. Or someone would make a challenge and the race was on to see who could peel the most peaches in a given time, who could peel the longest peeling, or even who could peel the shortest one. That last one was intended, I think, to give us younger ones a chance to win.
Mamma made sure we wore our oldest, most dilapidated clothes on Peach Day because peach stains are not beautiful like the fruit itself. Therefore, we were a real rag-tag bunch. But it didn’t matter since no one would see us. But one day friends from Brunswick, Georgia arrived unexpectedly. Mamma was so humiliated! I think she went right to work making one of her scrumptious deep dish peach cobblers trying to make amends for our appearance.
The peaches we usually worked with were called Elbertas but maybe once in the late summer Daddy might bring home a bushel of Georgia Belles. I loved slicing one of those in half so I could see the snow white flesh in such beautiful contrast to the bright red crater left when I popped the pit out. I failed to ask what variety we bought in Barney. I was so excited to get peaches of any kind. But I was told that right now clings are the only ones ripe, the freestones ripening later in the summer.
Hold a peach in your hand. Feel its velvety fuzz. Contemplate the varying shades of red with touches, even swatches, of gold and look at the shape with its charming cleft on one side. Put it to your nose and smell the rich enticing scent that makes you feel the warmth of remembered good things. And, finally, peel that peach and begin slicing fruit away from that fascinating grooved pit. Let the juice drizzle between your fingers. The fruit is golden with blending shades of red glistening with moisture. You won’t be able to resist popping a juicy morsel into your mouth!
Charles and I enjoyed sharing peaches from Barney with friends. Then we sat on our back porch peeling peaches while we told family stories and made up a few jokes. We froze some, ate a lot, and made a pie. Making a peach cobbler is pure joy. There’s one thing better, though. That’s eating it! Mmmmmm!