Peach lovers who may be curious about how South Carolina’s peach crops fared amid volatile conditions this year could check in with weather scientists to get the lowdown on dew points, precipitation, and atmospheric pressure. Or they could just ask a seasoned farmer like Dori Sanders. As sweet as the fruit she grows, Dori delivers her answer with home-grown warmth. “My dear one,” she says with affection, “this year, it’s looking peachy keen.”
Indeed. Despite a late freeze, the state’s peach producers have delivered a bountiful crop to market. “I’m always inspired by the beauty of it all,” Dori says. “Peaches are love that comes in the summer.” Every summer from June to September, Dori is spreading her special brand of sugar — hand-picked-this-very-morning peaches — to guests at her family’s quaint roadside stand in York.
Peaches are South Carolina’s official state fruit, yet many mistakenly believe Georgia is the country’s top producer of peaches. Not so. South Carolina regularly grows more peaches than Georgia, some years twice as many. Yet the state that yields the most peaches in the country is actually California, with South Carolina coming in at No. 2, followed by Georgia.
Some on social media refer to the “peach wars,” which got serious when Gaffney, South Carolina, built its iconic “Peachoid” water tower in 1981 to show those passing by on Interstate 85 that South Carolina reigns as the East Coast’s top peach producer. A photo of the peach-shaped tower gained fame in recent years as a prop in fictional politician Frank Underwood’s office on the popular Netflix series “House of Cards.”
According to the South Carolina Peach Council, the state’s peach industry brings in about $50 million annually and produces nearly 55,000 tons of the delicious fruit. The peach harvest usually begins in May, with the heavenly summer orbs selling from roadside stands and markets usually in conjunction with Clemson Cooperative Extension’s promotional “Ag and Art Tour,” a self-guided excursion of farms and farmers’ markets, many featuring local arts and crafts, in 10 counties. The tour commences every weekend in June. For details, visit agandarttour.com.
In addition to the Ag and Art Tour, summertime welcomes multiple festivals that celebrate the magnificent peach. In their quest for peaches, folks should not forget to patronize local pick-your-own farms. To find one nearby, visit www.pickyourown.org/SC.htm.
The town of Trenton in Edgefield County is home to the annual Ridge Peach Festival, which falls on June 15 this year and features a parade, peach ice cream, antiques, tractors, and a softball tournament. As an annual July Fourth tradition, Gilbert hosts the Lexington County Peach Festival replete with a peach parade, arts and crafts, live entertainment, peach-sourced culinary treats, and, of course, fireworks. Gaffney, home of the famous Peachoid tower, hosts the annual South Carolina Peach Festival, which runs from July 20 to 28 this year. This event includes a parade, concerts, sports, art, a recipe contest, and the official crowning of the state’s Peach Queen.
Without a doubt, the question most often asked at Dori’s farm stand is, “Are the freestones ready?” Freestones are peaches whose flesh pulls cleanly from the pit, or stone.
“Freestones are, by all counts, the most flavorful and best peaches you can have for the summer,” Dori says. “And you get more of the peach.” They usually turn up a little later in the season in July. Before that, growers offer what are known as clingstones. As the name suggests, the flesh clings to the stone, making them messier and more difficult to cut neatly.
Having lived on the farm all her life, however, Dori’s absolute favorite way to eat a peach is right from the tree. “I rub the fuzz off on my shirt and bite right into the peach,” she says, “and let all the juicy goodness drip down my arm.”