Better than a diamond ring or the keys to a new car, a box on my stoop revealed this summer’s real rare treasure—cradled in foam, a baker’s dozen of just-picked, fragrant, juicy-ripe peaches. You’ve likely heard that Southern peaches are in short supply, which made the boxed delivery from the Peach Truck company so special. Most estimates put Georgia’s peach crop loss at a devastating 90 percent, and South Carolina didn’t fare much better.
After California, South Carolina and Georgia are the country’s top peach-producing states, but the one-two punch of a warm winter and a late freeze in March devastated the Southern peach crop. “Those cold temperatures came in at twenty-five degrees three nights in a row—a peach bloom can’t hold up to that,” says Brandon Hyder, of Hyder Farms in Landrum, South Carolina, who estimates he’ll harvest just 20 percent of his usual crop this summer. “I realized that a lot of people won’t get to taste a peach this year.”
While many Southern farmers don’t have the volume needed to distribute to grocery stores, there are still peaches to be found this season—at farm stands and small markets throughout the South. Finding a market with peaches has become prized knowledge swapped through texts and on Instagram. (Charleston readers: I saw two baskets of South Carolina beauties this week at Veggie Bin on Spring Street).
Hyder sells his peaches at farmers markets in Landrum, Travelers Rest, Greenville, and Simpsonville, South Carolina. The Southern food historian David S. Shields is a fan. “I have a particular admiration for Hyder Farms,” he says, “because they keep certain classic Southern peach varieties in production.” Hyder says he’s seeing some of his seventeen varieties come in early, and that he still has a few white-fleshed fruits and a juicy variety called Big Red still to come in the next few weeks. The Charleston, South Carolina, chef and historian Kevin Mitchell likes Titan Farms in Ridge Spring, South Carolina, and Mac’s Pride peaches from McLeod Farms in McBee, South Carolina. “I get their subscription of peaches every summer,” he says.
There are other mail order options, too. Based in Nashville, the Peach Truck both travels with peaches to markets and delivers tenderly packaged, just-picked fruit across the country. While they’re keeping hope afloat for the five farms across South Carolina and Georgia they work with, they had to modify their sales plan this year. “We had a nine-hundred-plus-stops truck tour that we had to take down to a third of the size this summer,” says Stephen Rose, who runs the company with his wife, Jessica. Their mail-order operation, those juicy peaches that arrived at my doorstep, ships ripe peaches the same day they’re picked. The Georgia peaches are totally through, Rose says, so the rest of the summer’s crop will come from South Carolina.
“The peaches that did make it have been fantastic,” Rose says. “We feel like they’re the tasty little fighters that made it through.” This has been a common refrain—the rare fruit is somehow sweeter, somehow more precious. And people are saving it for their favorite recipes. Brandon Hyder says his family makes peach ice cream and peach cobbler. David Shields is into salsa with peaches and chili. And on Instagram, Kevin Mitchell shares flavor combination ideas like a recent peach and green tomato salad with parsley and tarragon alongside herb roasted chicken. The Peach Truck folks shared two recipes here: a simple herby pasta starring peaches, and an epic flavor-filled take on pork chops, slathered in sticky bourbon peach sauce.
Home cooks, bakers, and chefs are also figuring out ways to make what peaches they do have go the distance. Erika Council, who runs Bomb Biscuit Co. in Atlanta, shared this delicious recipe for Honey Roasted Peach Biscuits from her forthcoming cookbook, Still We Rise. She says that adding blackberries can spread the peach mix further, or they, or another fruit, can replace them entirely. “And chopping up some fresh basil and adding it to the biscuit dough is a great way to elevate this recipe.” She’s finding creative substitutions where she can. “Honestly, I’m using other fruits to make jams where I’d normally have gallons of peach jam to sell around this time,” she says. “Pineapple and cantaloupe jam is my go-to.”
With fruit so hard to find this year, the best way to savor a peach might be without a recipe at all. “I’m not going to put them up by canning or freezing any this year,” the Peach Truck’s Jessica Rose says. “When people ask me how I like peaches, my answer is, to eat them.”