Peaches, from farm to market to table

by Brian Clarey

With peach season in full swing, it’s time to make a cobbler. (photo by Brian Clarey)

Something draws me to the market last week. Maybe it’s the heat, draped about me like a hot, wet blanket. Maybe it’s something in the air — the scent of midsummer produce, perhaps, lacing the scirocco breeze. Or maybe I just have a deep hankering for some live food. No matter.

And I’m not real picky about the particulars. I’ll go to just about any farmers market that’s convenient at the time, which is why I almost never make it to the Greensboro Farmers Curb Market — open two days a week — and the Cobblestone Farmers Market, the hours of which conflict with my work schedule.

But the Piedmont Triad Farmers Market, run by the NC Department of Agriculture, is the granddaddy of them all, a sprawling bazaar that spans five buildings with displays of our bounty as fine as any: fruits and vegetables, plants, meats, spices, sauces — everything a man looking to create a little farm-to-fork action needs. And I can get there from my office in about 10 minutes — half the time it takes me to get to my house across town.

Today I’m looking for peaches, though I’m not averse to a few impulse buys, but it’s the peaches, ripe and juicy, fresh from the tree, that captivate my imagination, largely as a result of the failure, once again, of my backyard peach tree to produce edible fruit. And within seconds of my stroll down the first aisle I am confronted with their overwhelming scent.

Peach season in North Carolina runs from June through September, and the fruit this late in the season, tree-ripened and sun-soaked, represents to me the best of the crop.

Here’s how I buy a peach: I test gently for firmness — I don’t want them too soft, but not so hard I can’t eat one right away. And I smell the spot where the stem breaks. If it smells strong and flavor ful,

I know I’ve got a winner.

It’s a tough call out here today, with delicate white peaches, thickskinned yellow ones, mountain-grown peaches, low-country peaches, and they all smell just great.

As I browse the rows, I pick up a couple tomatoes, Cherokee purples, a head of cabbage and a nice portion of peppered side meat that will eventually become the best sandwich I’ve made all summer. But I’m getting ahead of myself.

I settle on a half-bushel of yellow peaches from Parsons Farm in Candor, about 60 miles directly south of Greensboro, and they incubate in the heat of the back seat of my car before I get them home, where I’ve got big plans for them.

It’s a cobbler I mean to make, and not just any cobbler. This one is courtesy of Paula Deen, and it differs from traditional recipes in that the batter is layered on the bottom of the dish before cooking. Believing that it will rise above the stewed peaches in a 350-degree oven to create a fabulous crust is an act of faith in the properties of baking powder.

I’m disappointed when I pull the cobbler from the oven — much of the batter has not risen to the surface, making the thing more of a tart than a cobbler. Still, it looks beautiful, a bed of glistening peaches with candied bubbles clinging to the sides of the dish. And the children for whom it was intended neither know nor care about the dictates of a traditional Southern cobbler. All they know is that they get to eat it.

wanna go?

Piedmont Triad Farmers Market 2914 Sandy Ridge Road, Colfax; Parsons Farm Candor; 910.974.3887