Wednesday, May 7, 2008

A visit to the orchard

Last year, the Easter bunny was cruel. He was cold. Because of his frosty ways, Memphians and their neighbors had to survive the summer without local peaches or blueberries.

Here’s what happened: For a few nights in early April 2007, the temperature dropped below freezing, even into the teens in some places. This would have been bad under normal circumstances, but was especially damaging because the month of March 2007 was one of the warmest on record in the region. Optimists everywhere set out their tender starts, fruit trees bloomed. It was a little dry, but no one worried. March’s breezy sunshine promised such good things.

Wicked sun. Where were you Easter morning, when all the good little children woke to the 2nd day of bitter cold? They didn’t know what their chilly egg hunts portended. A peachless summer!

Almost a year later, in March of this year, I took my son Gus and his friend David up to Jones Orchard in Millington, Tennessee. Henry Jones, grandson of the orchard's founder, took us out into the alleys of trees right near his new house. He has three--no, four!--kids of his own, 3 boys, including a pair of twins, and a baby girl. They're homeschooled, and I think the orchard is part of their classroom. Henry's boys took Gus and David way out into the orchard to explore an old graveyard out past the end of the trees.

Henry is also a colleague of mine on the board of the Memphis Farmers' Market. Jones Orchard donated dibs on the fruit from 3 trees to the MFM Silent Auction, a fundraiser for the market, which is a non-profit. When I called Henry in March to set up a visit to my trees, he seemed kind of surprised. It seems that when he's done this before, people have just come on up and claimed the equivalent of 3 trees' worth of fruit. But I wanted to see the fruit develop from the flower. The process seems so much like a pregnancy to me, that I wanted to be there at something like the moment of conception.

I guess I'm kind of voyeur. Voyeuse? Anyway, I wanted to see some fruit tree sex.

Well, as I'm sure you know, tree-on-tree love isn't so smutty, but it does involve some nice lingerie. Check out these frillies:

No bee could resist.

Henry and I picked out 3 trees. He's got gazillions on Highway 51, but he marked these ones off near his house because they're heirloomish and kind of special. At least that's how I'm looking at it. It also means he can drive off any ruffians who want to get their greedy mitts on my fruit. He set up a kind of bouncer's rope-slash-police line around the trees.

In order to ensure a steady flow of product into my peach-crazy household (and all of our friends who are in on this madness), we chose varieties that would ripen in succession. The earliest to ripen will be the Intrepids, although--and more on this in my next post--they are actually replacing some of my Flame Princes (I think that's what they're called), late ripeners that, alas, were damaged by some cold weather we had in April. Not like '07's frost, but still. Really. Anyway, the Intrepids don't mind frost so much. Next are the Harrow Beauties, which are alleged to make good jam. Finally come the Redskins in late July, and the Elbertas in early August. I'm particularly looking forward to them. Elberta is the first peach name I ever knew, I think because my grandparents used to get Elberta peach ice cream in the summer.

I'm planning to make some of my own and tell you all about it. More on chilly topix next time, when I show you some frost-damaged peach babies.

As a new blogger, I'm a little uncertain about my use of the 2d person. It makes me feel a bit like Mr. Rogers.

1 comment:

  1. This is wonderful. My favorite line: "Well, as I'm sure you know, tree-on-tree love isn't so smutty, but it does involve some nice lingerie. Check out these frillies..." Never knew peaches could be so titillating. btw, I'm assuming you've read Mas Masumoto's Epitaph for a Peach, but if for some reason you haven't, get on it. And pronto.