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Robert St. John

Restaurateur, author, enthusiastic traveler, & world-class eater.

Fall Peaches?

September 18, 2006

Fall Peaches?

Is it fall yet?

I don’t know when the first official day of fall arrives, but around here, it doesn’t feel like “fall” until mid December. The first day of autumnal equinox is September 23. But on September 23 rd in South Mississippi it doesn’t feel much different than August 23 rd or July 23 rd for that matter.

Autumn is a term reserved for people who live in a part of the country where leaves turn brilliant shades of red, yellow, and orange. They wear wool sweaters in October; start worrying about when the first frost will arrive, and whether the snow blower needs a pre-season tune up.

We have no leaves. We have green pine needles which turn a dull and ugly brown. We use our lawnmowers into November, have no idea what frost looks like, and— with the exception of those attending an Ole Miss football game— our wool sweaters, skirts, and jackets stay packed in mothballs until they are ready to be pulled out for the two-week period in late January we call winter.

Autumn is a season that sounds cool and brisk. It was 92-degrees, yesterday. It has been said that South Mississippi has four seasons: almost summer, summer, still summer, and Christmas. I have friends who measure the seasons as: dove, deer, duck, and turkey. We badly want to have a fall in South Mississippi, though all we can really do is keep raking pine straw and reading Southern Living to find out when the leaves are at their peak in every other Zone but ours.

Our weather does have its advantages. I was traveling down U.S. 49 last week and noticed a sign at a fruit stand that advertised fresh “Tree-ripened peaches.” I wheeled in and checked out the newly arrived crop. When I asked the lady where they were picked, she said, “South Carolina.” I was expecting the typical off-season answer of California, Mexico, or South America.

To my knowledge, I had never eaten South Carolina peaches. As far as I was concerned, the summer peach season started with Chilton County, Alabama and later moved to Georgia where it ended. I guess it makes sense that the late season would keep the crop moving farther east into South Carolina.

I bought two baskets and dreamed of sliced peaches for breakfast.

I went to the South Carolina Department of Agriculture’s website to research South Carolina peaches, and learned more than I ever needed to know. They seem to resent Georgia’s peach popularity and don’t hide their discontent with statements such as: “South Carolina ranks # 3 nationally in fresh production. (At one time, one county in South Carolina could produce more commercially grown fresh peaches than the entire state of Georgia.” They have also adopted the motto “Tastier Peach State.” Talk about a chip on your shoulder.

Ultimately what I learned from this entire experience is that no matter where the peaches come from, unless you are buying them in late June, July or early August, they just don’t taste like summer, no matter how hot it is outside.

Miniature Fried Peach Pies

A true Southern dessert staple. These work well with apples, too.

Sweet Pie Dough:
8 tablespoons unsalted butter, at room temperature
1 1 /2 Tbl granulated sugar
1 /8 tsp salt
1 large egg
1 1 /2 cups all-purpose flour
2 Tbl ice water

1 tablespoon unsalted butter
1 /2 pound frozen peaches, thawed, or 1 cups fresh peaches, small diced
3 Tbl granulated sugar
1 /4 cup peach jam or preserves
Pinch of ground cayenne pepper

1 tsp cinnamon
2 tsp corn starch
1 Tbl peach schnapps

1 Tbl sugar
1 /2 tsp cinnamon

Vegetable oil for deep frying

To prepare the pie dough, beat together the butter, sugar, and salt for three minutes on medium speed in the bowl of an electric mixer. Add egg and beat for 30 seconds. Add flour and water and beat for 15 seconds. Turn off the machine, scrape down the sides of the bowl, and beat again for 10 seconds.

Scoop up dough with your hands and form into a one-inch thick disk. Wrap in plastic and refrigerate for at least one hour.

Melt butter over medium-high heat in a sauté pan. Sauté peaches and sugar until sugar is dissolved, approximately two minutes. Add the preserves, cayenne, and cinnamon; cook, stirring frequently, for 3 minutes.

Dissolve cornstarch in the schnapps and stir into hot peach mixture. Remove from heat and cool.

On a lightly floured surface, roll out dough into a 16 x 11-inch rectangle about 1 /8-inch thick. Cut out 3 1 /2-inch circles and place two teaspoons of filling in the center of each dough circle. Fold the circles in half and pinch the edges together. Refrigerate pies for 30 minutes before frying.

Heat 2 1/2 inches of vegetable oil to 350-degrees in a heavy four-quart saucepan. Fry pies 4 or 6 at a time until golden brown, 1 1/2 -2 minutes per batch. Drain on paper towels.
Keep warm in a 200-degree oven until all pies are fried. Serve immediately.

Yield: 24-26

From Robert’s newly released Hyperion cookbook “Deep South Parties”

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