According to the calendar, this past Sunday was the first day of summer. But we Texans don’t need a calendar to know when summer starts. It’s when the weather changes from hot and humid springtime temps to downright blistering summer heat. It’s when people start dreaming of trips to the Gulf Coast. And, it’s when peaches come into season. Many people think Georgia grows the nation’s best peaches, but Texas is right up there at the top of the list. A Texas peach is the sweetest, drip-down-your-chin juiciest piece of fruit you’ll ever eat. And, of course, they’re much bigger here!
You’ll find good peach orchards throughout Texas, but the epicenter has to be the Hill Country, and specifically, the town of Stonewall, a good hour’s drive west of Austin. Take a trip along Hwy. 290 and you are surrounded by trees heavy with fat peaches. It seems you could almost reach your hand out the window and pluck a few on your way. The smell in the air is sweet, ripe peachy nirvana. Thousands of people make a pilgrimage to the area every year to buy the fuzzy fruit at roadside stands or to pick their own at the many orchards in the area. The growing season goes from May through August, with June and July being the biggest “boom” months for many varieties.
Why not plan a peach-themed day trip or weekend getaway to the Hill Country? Check the Texas Peaches website for a list of orchards, the types they grow and availability. The website also has a map showing driving routes. If you want to pick your own peaches, go EARLY in the day. I can’t stress this enough. One reason is to beat the heat, but also, there is a limited amount of ripe fruit every day. Once it’s been picked, the orchard will close for the day and leave the sun to do its work of ripening the next day’s yield. If you can’t go early, call the orchard the day before and ask them their advice on how late you can arrive and still expect some picking time.
Orchards and local restaurants are also offering fantastic peachy delights, including baked goods, homemade jams and — my favorite — peach ice cream, a seasonal treat I look forward to all year.
As you drive homeward with your bushels of peaches, rest assured you won’t run out of things to use them for. Here are a few good recipes, worthy of the best fruit on earth — Texas peaches!
• White Peach Sangria
• Baby Back Ribs with Peach BBQ Sauce
• Peach Jalapeño Jam