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Robert St. John

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

Summer Peaches and Bare Feet

June 6, 2018

Years ago—as a small child in the south—the change of seasons meant nothing to me. The four seasons of my early life were: almost summer, summer, still summer, and Christmas. One could go barefoot in South Mississippi beginning in March, and not put shoes back on until October, and I did.

From first grade through senior high, summer began when the school year was finished after Memorial Day and ended when school resumed after Labor Day. Those were the days of bare feet and no worries. Bare feet represented freedom, and a specific freedom I rarely feel these days.

During my college stint— which spanned a rocky eight-year period— I never really paid attention to the change of seasons. I worked full time, so there was no summer break, spring break, or Christmas. Though the barefoot and carefree days of summer began to wane.

The older I’ve become, the more often I find myself wearing socks and shoes.

These days the seasons are clearly defined. Fall— though warm during most of the season— begins when football season kicks off. Spring starts with Mardi Gras, and summer begins when the Chilton County, Alabama peaches arrive at the local markets.

All hail Chilton County, Alabama peaches.

I purchased my first batch of Chilton County peaches this week. Summer is definitely here. The Chilton County peaches start arriving in our local markets around the first of June, and for the next six weeks, they are a staple at our house. The Georgia and South Carolina peaches arrive in July. They are fine. But to my taste, the Chilton County peaches are the best.

I don’t know what’s in the water in that little stretch of the Alabama, but as with the wine country in Napa, Tuscany, the Bordeaux region of France the soil and temperature are perfectly suited for growing that particular fruit.
Nothing tastes more like summer than peaches. And nothing tastes more like peaches than Chilton County peaches. Sweet corn is good, garden-fresh tomatoes are fine. Peas and butterbeans are staples during this time of year. But nothing tastes like summer as much as a bowl full of peaches (eaten while barefooted).

At a party I was hosting at my home several years ago, a lady asked if she could look in my refrigerator. “I want to see what is inside a chef’s refrigerator,” she said. I’m not sure what she expected to find in there— giant lobes of foie gras, dozens of lobster tails, large cuts of prime beef, fresh whole Gulf fish, micro greens, and elaborate pastry dishes? She was probably surprised, and a little disappointed, that the inside of my refrigerator didn’t look much different than hers, especially since I have a couple of teenagers living in the house.

If one looks in my refrigerator any time over the next six weeks, there will be a couple of gallons of milk, several jars of homemade jams, a lot of bacon and eggs (my son eats four eggs and four pieces of bacon every morning, 24-7-365), some cheese I smuggled back from Tuscany, iced tea, various odds, ends, and leftovers, and— on the middle shelf in the very front— a large bowl of macerated Chilton County peaches.

We might run out of milk, and we often do. The bacon and egg inventory might get low, and the cheese will eventually be gone. But be assured, that a full bowl of macerated peaches will stay on that shelf the entire Chilton County peach season. There will also be a dozen or so unpeeled peaches in the big fruit bowl on the kitchen island.

My wife does a lot of great things for our family. She runs a tight ship at the house, washes clothes, irons, takes care of the pets, and I am sure does several dozen things I don’t even know about. Those are all fine, and her family appreciates the hard work and effort. But, at the end of the day, what we probably appreciate most— at least during this time of year— is that she keeps peaches peeled and macerated in the refrigerator at all times.

The maceration (softening) process is easy and occurs naturally when sugar is added to peaches. It doesn’t take much because the peaches are already sweet. We just add a couple of tablespoons of sugar to a bowl of peaches, gently toss them around, and let them sit for a few minutes.

Those peaches are eaten for breakfast at lunch, as an afternoon snack, as a dessert after dinner, and as a late-night treat.

I have always preferred fruit over chocolate to end a meal. In the fall I opt for some type of apple pie or tart. In the spring I like strawberries and cream. In the summer give me macerated peaches in a bowl. If we have company over, I might put a scoop of ice cream in the bowl for them, but I keep it unadulterated: Peaches, sugar, and a spoon to scoop up the juice in the bottom of the bowl that is rendered during the maceration process. Pure. Simple. Southern.

In July, when the Georgia and South Carolina peaches start to come in, we’ll make peach cobbler, peach pie, and peach ice cream. If macerated peaches taste like the beginning of summer, peach ice cream tastes like the middle, especially when it’s topped with local blueberries.

Chilton County, Alabama peaches make summer taste better— whether I’m wearing shoes, or not.

View today’s recipe: Peach Ice Cream

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