Hawking Peaches at the Charlottesville City Market

My part-time ‘administrative and marketing support’ position at Vintage Virginia Apples has included a wide variety of services and (as an added bonus) a significant amount of education in the history, heritage, and reality of apple cultivation.

Last fall I coordinated several meals for family and friends assisting in the seventh annual Apple Harvest Festival, as well as attending the festival in order to present some notes and ideas for the future.  That autumnal training also included a stint pressing (and drinking) fresh cider for sale at the festival, and led to my premier as an apple-press saleswoman (commission?  two bottles of Rausse wine) and a successful experiment in fermenting cider into apple wine and, eventually, delicious apple cider vinegar.  Along the way I learned about the qualities that contribute to flavor in fresh apples, cider, and cooking fruit, as well as Mr. Jefferson’s favorites and the challenges to fruit cultivation in Central Virginia (hint:  it’s not the heat, it’s the humidity).

Next step in Apple 101 was the wintertime activities, consisting of a course of four workshops presented by Vintage Virginia.  I served two all-local foods meals to just over 80 people; lest you feel badly for me, I also got to taste 8 varieties of hard cider from around the world, including Foggy Ridge Cider (www.foggyridgecider.com) which represents the resurrection of commercial cidermaking in Virginia.  I observed classes on planning a home orchard, pruning, grafting, and cidermaking – while I did not absorb all the information, this course of studies helped me to contextualize apple (and other tree fruit) production in Virginia and to imagine how it might be highlighted and integrated into the rest of the system.

Charlotte had made it clear that my help would be needed in moving peaches; while the crop last year was almost entirely ‘snapped’ with cold, this year the crop was bountiful and intensely flavored (probably due to so little rainfall during the ripening process).  Beginning in mid-July and continuing through Labor Day, I met the Sheltons at the City Market around 6:30 (all those folks get up VERY early to get produce to market, so at 6:30 I was ‘late’!) to help unload and display the fruit.  The first week was evenly split between peaches and plums; in my opinion, the plums stole the show, with their cunning shapes and intense colors (not to mention unparalleled ability to attract wasps and flies).  Shiro, Damson, Kirke’s Blue, Green Gage – when customers hesitated in making a purchase, I half-encouraged and half-scolded them to buy the plums as their season is so fleeting.  As the peach crop began to mature, we cycled through 15 to 20 different varieties, ranging from white to yellow flesh, cling and freestone, large and buxom, small and shriveled. Each week we were likely to have one ‘repeater’ from the week prior, and my favorite part of the day became ‘peach breakfast’, or the moment when I walked down the display of large cardboard boxes, checked the signs, and tasted each peach to determine which one I would recommend that day.  While this may seem obvious, one of our most successful tactics is to cut samples of ripe fruit; that way, every customer can determine which type is most appealing that week.  Beekman, Contender, Madison, Georgia Belle, White Lady, Champion, Intrepid, Challenger, Monroe…even now the names make me salivate. Each week I took home nearly a case of peaches, and experimented with dehydration, jamming, and even fermenting into vinegar (not sure if that w=one worked or not – I am afraid to taste it, but it smells like heaven!).  I grilled peaches and served them with ice cream; cooked them into pancakes; ate them over granola; a clever friend folded them into a beef stirfry that had gotten a bit spicy, and while I could not pinpoint the flavor, the fullness of flavor was easy to admire.  Peaches every which way.  At one point, a customer recalled her days growing up in crozet, when everybody worked in the orchards in the summertime ‘pullin’ down the peaches.  Course in those days, didn’t have no refrigeration out there, and not on trucks either, so my brothers would work all day in the orchard teeming with bees, then have a bit of supper, then resume work sorting the peaches in to the back of trucks for overnight delivery to Washington DC and northerly points.  It was a 24 hour affair, and they didn’t stop ’til it was done, some five six weeks later.  Didn’t sleep much.’

As the peach varieties started to fade, the apples appeared (a seamless transition, really) – first the tart, ‘baking’ apples that don’t ripen to sweetness, then the first ‘dessert’ apple (I believe Arlet filled that role), then finally the well-rounded flavors of Razor Russet, Gravenstein, McIntosh with the true ‘storage’ apples yet to come.  Its first week of availability, the Summer Rambo practically knocked my socks off with its huge silhouette and the crisp, sour taste akin to Granny Smith; the Arlet allures with pinkish flesh, a small footprint and a heady aroma.  All hail the advent of our local hero the Albemarle Pippin, and apple that actually improves while it is in storage and that serves triple duty for cooking, cider and dessert or ‘out of hand’ eating.

Now I know that the reason orchards are clustered West of town has to do with drainage, south-facing slopes, and most of all the inability to use that hilly land for other types of agriculture.  Apparently Claudius Crozet built a railway spur just to move fruit and sugar as far into Sugar Hollow as possible before loading it onto horseback and into wagons; the fruit was fermented and the sugar added during distillation to make illegal liquor.  I bet it was delicious. 


~ by a local notion on September 24, 2008.

One Response to “Hawking Peaches at the Charlottesville City Market”

  1. I love this bit about the fruits, apples especially. The apple harvest was the first thing that really got me excited here in C’ville since moving here from CA six months ago.

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