Georgia is at the height of peach season: running from mid-June to mid-July where real freestones roam merrily at farmers’ markets and roadside stands. It’s time to nibble on the melted fruit on the sink and let drops of liquid sun rays run down your chin. And most importantly, it is a period when Georgians can rightfully brag about the bounty of local peaches.
“We’re all looking for the Georgia peach brand,” says Todd Richards, culinary director of One Flew South. “As chefs, we use peaches in so many ways; we focus on dessert, to send a little Georgia on your mind. There’s nothing better than nibbling at a sugar-caramelized, sun-kissed spot.”
For the rice pudding served at One Flew South in Old Four Ward, Richards uses forbidden rice (sometimes referred to as black rice or purple rice) which he says provides the dessert with a sweet taste and blends well with the sweetness of Georgia peach topping the dish.
This summer, Theresa Feeney of Heart Panaderia’s Mini Bakery uses Georgia peaches in masa peach melba, inspired by another popular Georgia dessert: peaches and berries. The masa harina (flour) cake with a Georgian peach and raspberry jam filling comes frozen with salted vanilla buttercream, Vinnie’s answer to a scoop of melted vanilla ice cream over warm fruit and buttery dough. Fresh seasonal fruits are often used as the main ingredients for baking cakes and paan dulce (Mexican sweet beads), including in their popular concha.
“Using ingredients that grow around me, or at least regionally, is all about it because that usually means getting to know the makers, growers, and farmers of my community,” she says. “That’s really the whole soul of the bakery—very local, grown in Georgia, usually in small batches.”
Vinny is currently taking orders for his masa harina chiffon cake during this year’s peach season.
The Southern peach industry was born in Macon County in the small town of Marshallville, with the creation of the Alberta peach. “It was a little gold rush,” says Will McGee, a fifth-generation farmer at Pearson Farm in Fort Valley, Georgia..
Georgia farmers were not only good at growing peaches – they were also good at taking peaches to market. Samuel and Louis Rump created a rail system using a car that suppliers could snow with all the way to the Northeast to keep peaches cool. This combination of product and shipping technology has strengthened the bond between Georgia and Peach.
But Georgia’s reputation as the “Peach State” really comes from quality, not total quantity. In 2021, for example, Georgia produced 35,300 tons of peaches; South Carolina produced 72,630 tons at its most successful harvest since 2011; California harvested more than 130,000 tons of peaches.
There are a few variables that put the Georgia peach at the top. First, Southern and Western growers grow different types of peaches: both wilt and unmelted. You can recognize a fuser in your hand; Give it a light pressure, and it will soften against the pressure. West Coast peaches do not melt. Fruit accumulates a certain amount of sugar and can then sit on the shelf for a long period of time.
“It’s amazing for its longevity,” McGee says. “The problem is they don’t thaw properly, they don’t give you the right juice, they’re not like ‘Oh my God, I want to have a really good five.'”
Unlike other stone fruits with a tight peel such as nectarines, plums, and grapes, peaches breathe quickly due to their fuzzy exterior and lose moisture at a higher rate of yield. This makes peaches far from ideal for refrigerator and refrigerated storage. “You don’t have the equivalent of two weeks [shelf] McGee says.
You don’t have to rely on undissolved peaches in the Southeast, he adds, as the fruit can go from the tree to the customer in a few days, whether those peaches are sold on the roadside, at your local farmers market, or shipped higher. East Coast or Midwest.
Moreover, Georgia has ideal breeding grounds for growing peaches. The state’s distinctive red clay, especially the clay soil found along the Fort Valley plateau in central Georgia, is nutrient-dense and incredibly moisture-retaining—a huge asset in a state that’s also drought-prone. And what is the last factor? Extreme heat and humidity in Georgia. What the hell for Georgians it is optimal to grow peaches and allow the fruit to constantly produce sugar. Peaches grow in areas that are constantly cooling overnight and stop developing sugar until heat returns.
So, Georgia does not produce the majority of America’s peach. so what? If the state consistently breeds peaches with higher packaging and a longer shelf life, it will be at the expense of the flavor that makes Georgia peaches so special and so good.
“You look at all the nicknames for the other states and I’m going to take the phrase ‘peach state’ any day of the week,” McGee says. “It is a romantic, sweet and succulent fruit. Can you imagine something better that it is famous for?”