I'm a huge fan of summer fruit. I grew up in an area of Michigan that my mother always called the Fruit Belt. I'm not sure it is really, but it was license enough to me to revel in all the wonderful fresh fruits I could get my hands on during the summer as a kid.
Sometimes, local farmers would drive up and down the streets in the neighborhood, offering freshly picked strawberries, or peaches, and vegetables off the back of their trucks. There were a couple of regular guys who'd drive by with their kids. They'd pull over and my mother would bring them a few quarters and then carry everything back up to the house in her apron.
And sometimes, I would go out picking fruit with my dad. We'd get baskets and go out into the fields to select our own strawberries. I loved that. The warm, dry dirt of the fields, the narrow and neat rows with the the colorful fruit set against the dark green leaves, and the idea that I was selecting only the most perfect berries to bring home to my mother for shortcake. I loved shortcake and my mother made it without any added sugar so the flavor of the berries was all you got, drizzled and layered over hot fresh, split biscuits.
We were in the Fruit Belt and we had orchards of fruit as well. If you drive around the county right now, you will be flanked on both sides of most roads by orchards filled with fruit hanging from the trees, so many you can't count them all. The apple orchards are getting close to ripe now and they will take over from the summer fruit before long.
But now, there's peaches. There's something mystical about peaches, something wondeful that I can't give over to other fruit, even the ones that I love, like apples or melons or grapes. There's the tang in the scent of a ripe peach, the overwhelmingly sugary taste, and that uniquely fuzzy feel of the skin as you turn it over in your hands that makes a peach unlike anything else, at least in this part of the country. I tell people, if you can't smell the peaches from the car, it's not worth getting out to buy the fruit. And nectarines, to me, pale by comparison. I have to have the fuzz.
I was in the county where I grew up just last weekend for a short visit. And I told my dad, all I wanted was a perfect peach. He laughed at me and said most of the peaches were already done, but I persevered and found two spots to try them. We pulled over to one farmstand and found fresh peaches by the bushel for sale with the farmer waiting for us at a service table, holding a rosy peach in his hand to offer us a taste. The peach was so ripe you could peel the skin off with your hands and the pit came right out of the center.
Suddenly it was like Proust with his Madeleines. I tasted the peach and memories of walking through orchards, picking peaches with my dad came back and enriched the flavor in my mouth. I was nine years old again and my dad was calling me to get back in the car before we were late for supper. The car would fill with the thick scent of fresh-picked treasure and I would sleep all the way home, smiling at my good fortune.
I brought back a paper bag of peaches that survived one rental car, three airports, two planes, and a car service ride home. They're gone now, shared with my daughter, all except one lone peach that sits in my kitchen, waiting for me to finish it, to end the adventure.
On the one hand, I should eat it now before it goes bad, because of all fruit, peaches are indeed among the most fragile. But on the other hand, some protocol or ceremony to eating it is in order. I should take pictures or use my glass plate.
It is, after all, a perfect peach.