The noble peach and its challengers

Friday, July 7, 2006

If you haven't noticed -- or tasted -- yet, the peach harvest is in full swing.

This is a grand time of the year. Any time you can eat a fresh peach, it's a fantastic time to be alive.

I could wax poetic about peaches, but why do it when others have already done it -- and so well?

For example, the front page of the St. Louis Post-Dispatch -- maybe you've heard of it? -- had a story this week about the peach crop, and part of the headline said: "It's a banner year here for the quintessential summertime fruit."

First, let me say that "quintessential" is a mighty fancy word to be floating around the front page of any newspaper.

Second, let me say that I can understand how a headline writer, particularly one who has just wiped the juice of a fresh peach from his face and hands, might go a little overboard with the verbiage. Goodness knows I've done it a time or two myself.

Third, I would suggest that there are some powerful challengers to this bold claim of quintessentiality, and it's a dangerous thing to make such a unequivocating statement about peaches, as if no one might argue in favor of another fruit.

Like the blackberry.

It appears to be suitably hot and dusty along some country roads to make you think it might be time for blackberries to be ripening. With today's air-conditioned cars, it's hard to tell.

I guarantee you that if you're in a the back seat of a 1953 Chevrolet sedan on a July afternoon with the plastic seat covers glued to the backs of your legs and sweat is rolling down your body and the dust is clogging you nostrils because the only "air conditioning" you have is the wind coming through the open window and you hope whoever is driving will go as fast as the gravel road will permit so there will be even more fresh air filled with dust churned up by the speeding car -- you will know when blackberries are ripe.

Picking wild blackberries is not my favorite thing to do, for lots of reasons called thorns, chiggers and snakes. But the blackberry cobbler that is still hot enough to melt a big ball of vanilla ice cream is worth it.

The plant that produces blackberries is, as all farmers in the Ozarks hills over yonder can tell you, not a blackberry vine. I've heard of blackberry vines that are tended by berry farmers, but in the wild the plant is called a briar patch. And the briar is a fairly noxious weed that grows in fence rows. So many good things have such humble beginnings.

Another fruit that might give the fuzzy peach a run for its money is the tomato.

OK. Let's agree not to debate about whether a tomato is a fruit or a vegetable. For the purposes of today's discussion, it's going to be a fruit. Otherwise it makes no sense to compare a tomato and a peach.

I've noticed a pink tinge on some of the tomatoes on the vines growing outside our bedroom window. My mother informed me last week that my aunt's vines in my favorite hometown are already producing red Big Boys.

Be still my heart.

To get some idea of what's in store in the dining room just beyond those pearly gates, imagine a thick slice of a beefsteak tomato between two slices of home-baked bread slathered with mayonnaise. Meat? Cheese? Go ahead, if you want, but why ruin a perfectly good ripe tomato?

I'm sure that when you get to heaven you can have a peach if you want it. I suppose you can eat mud pies made by an angel if that's what makes you happy in the great beyond.

But if I get to heaven and find out there's no blackberry cobbler or vine-ripened, home-grown tomatoes, someone is going to have a lot of explaining to do.

R. Joe Sullivan is the editor of the Southeast Missourian.

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