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Robert St. John

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

Porch Retreat

June 8, 2015

My town is still. The roads are quiet. Business is slow. Many people have retreated to their vacation homes for the summer.

Some own vacation homes on the beach. All year long they dream of sand, surf, and the smell of salty air. It’s a place where they can get away from the daily grind that tugs at them throughout the year. The kids can run and play at the edge of the Gulf and everyone can sleep late into the morning.

Others own mountain homes where a view of the Smoky Mountains or the Rockies can melt away the stress that has been brewing in their large intestine since they last left the mountain. These people don’t need seawater and sand. They long for cool mornings in the lodge with a cup of coffee and a mountain vista. Their day is filled with relaxation and maybe a round of golf. Their evenings are spent watching the sun retreat over the peaks to the west.

I don’t have a beach condo or a mountain lodge to visit during the summer. I don’t have any type of vacation home. But if I ever did decide to buy a summer retreat, I wouldn’t go to the sugar sand beaches of the Florida Panhandle. I wouldn’t buy a mountain lodge nestled among spruce trees in North Carolina. I would drive 263 miles east of my hometown into Chilton, County, Alabama, find the biggest stand of peach trees I could find, purchase a quarter of an acre of land across the street, and set up an Airstream trailer where I would spend six weeks out of every summer. That, my friends, would be my dream vacation spot.

When my friends search for the perfect beach condo location they take into consideration things such as seaside view, dockage for boats, concentration of people, proximity to bars and restaurants. Those who are in the market for a mountain retreat are interested in privacy and the quality of the scenery. Is the view to the east or west? And how much are the dues and greens fees at the golf club?

The only question that will need to be answered in my Chilton County trailer condo is: When do the peaches ripen? And I almost always know the answer. Now! Yes, we are smack dab in the middle of Chilton County, Alabama peach season, and they are having a banner year.

If the owner of the peach orchard would let me, I would place my Airstream trailer in the middle of his peach orchard. I don’t need sand and saltwater. I don’t play golf. It takes too long to drive to the mountains and I don’t need to drink coffee in front of a mountainous view. I want to walk outside my door and pick up a peach and eat it. I’d like to be able to walk a few more feet and pick up another peach and eat it. If I was feeling overly energetic that day, I might even reach up and pick a peach from a tree. After all of that work I might go inside my trailer and take a nap. Later that day, I would eat more peaches. Rinse. Wash. Repeat.

People always pick cutesy names for their beach houses like “Seas the Day” or “Dune Our Thing.” I would also choose a cutesy name for my Airstream in the middle of the peach orchard such as “Just Peachy,” “Peachy Keen,” or “Stay Off Of My Property and Don’t Pick My Peaches Unless You Want A Backside Full Of Buckshot.”

Chilton County, Alabama peaches are the gold standard for peaches. There is something about the soil and climate in that part of the world that produces the perfect peach. Napa and Bordeaux have it for grapes. Tuscany has it for olives. The San Marzano region of Italy has it for tomatoes. It’s where all factors come together as one to create the perfect fruit. It’s as if God said I am going to bless the citizens of this area with more than everyone else because I am going to give them the perfect fruit, and therefore the formula to a happy life. Chilton County, Alabama is that place for peaches.

Had it been a Chilton County peach— instead of an apple— in the Garden of Eden we wouldn’t even be in this predicament, because Chilton County peaches are so good that the serpent would have eaten it first. Eve would have never even had the opportunity to take a bite of the fruit and Adam wouldn’t have thrown Eve under the bus when God called him out. We’d all be walking around naked, childbirth would be a breeze, and men wouldn’t have to toil by the sweat of their brow creating a need for vacation homes on beaches and in mountains.

My mother lived in Georgia during part of her youth and she swears by Georgia peaches. South Carolina has a chip on their shoulder because they actually grow more peaches than Georgia and they claim to be the “true peach state.” Sorry, mom, you’re wrong. South Carolina, you’re mistaken, too. The absolute best peaches on the planet are grown in Chilton County, Alabama and they are available for the next few weeks of the summer. But you better hurry, before I buy them all up.

In the meantime I’m off to Craig’s List to find a used Airstream.


Peach Shortcake

2 cups all-purpose flour
2 Tbl sugar, plus extra for sprinkling
1 Tbl baking powder
1/8 tsp salt
3/4 cup cold unsalted butter (1 1/2 sticks), diced
3 large eggs, lightly beaten
1/4 cup heavy cream, chilled

1/4 cup sour cream

1 tsp vanilla extract
1 egg beaten with 2 tablespoons water or milk, for egg wash

1/4 cup sugar
4-5 ripe peaches, peeled, pitted, and thinly sliced (about 3 cups)
1 Tbl fresh lemon juice

1 pint blueberries

Preheat the oven to 400 degrees F.

Sift the flour, 2 tablespoon sugar, the baking powder, and salt into the bowl of an electric mixer fitted with the paddle attachment. Blend in the butter at the lowest speed and mix until the butter is the size of peas. Combine the eggs, heavy cream, sour cream and vanilla extract and quickly add to the flour and butter
mixture. Mix until just blended. The dough will be sticky.

Dump the dough out onto a well-floured surface. Flour your hands and pat the dough out 3/4-inch thick. You should see lumps of butter in the dough.

Cut biscuits with a 2 3/4-inch cutter and place on a baking sheet lined with parchment.

Brush the tops with the egg wash. Sprinkle with sugar and bake for 20 to 25 minutes, until the outsides are crisp and the insides are fully baked. Let cool on a wire rack.

While the biscuits are baking, combine the 1/4 cup of sugar with the sliced peaches and lemon juice. Refrigerate until needed.

Split each shortcake in half crosswise and place the bottom half on a plate. Place a small amount of the peach mixture atop each biscuit bottom. Place one scoop of ice cream on the peaches and spoon the remaining peaches over the ice cream. Place the biscuit top over the filled bottom half and sprinkle each shortcake with 2-3 tablespoons of fresh blueberries, serve immediately.



6-8 servings


Vanilla Bean Ice Cream

5 cups heavy cream
2 1/2 cups whole milk
Pinch salt
1 1/2 cups sugar
1 vanilla bean
12 large egg yolks


To make the vanilla ice cream: Combine the cream, milk, salt, and 3/4 cup of the sugar in a large pot. Split the vanilla bean down the middle lengthwise and scrape out the seeds with a paring knife; add them to the pot and toss in the pods for added flavor. Place the cream mixture over medium heat, and bring up to a simmer; stirring with a wooden spoon to dissolve the sugar. Cook for about 15 minutes, being careful that the mixture does not boil, simmer or scald. Shut off the heat, cover the pot, and allow the cream mixture to steep for 15 minutes to further infuse the vanilla flavor.

In the meantime, combine the egg yolks in a large mixing bowl and blend them lightly with a wire whisk. Gradually add the remaining 3/4 cup of sugar and continue to whisk until the sugar is completely dissolved and the eggs are thick and pale yellow; about 6 minutes.

Using a large ladle or measuring cup, temper the eggs by gradually whisking in about 2 cups of the hot cream mixture. Return this back to the rest of the cream in the saucepan and turn the heat to medium-low. Stir constantly until the custard thickens and leaves a path on the back of a spoon when you run your finger across it, about 10 to 12 minutes (do not let boil.)

Pour the vanilla custard through a fine strainer into a mixing bowl and place it over an ice bath and chill completely. Stir the mixture while it is cooling. For best flavor results, store the ice cream base covered over night in the refrigerator. Following the manufacturer’s instructions of your ice cream maker, freeze the ice cream. Transfer to airtight containers and freeze until needed.


1/2 gallon


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