At this time of year, varieties of peaches begin to come in and out of harvest almost weekly, evolving from June tartness to the cinnamony-sweet notes of late August. As I track the progression of summer through its changing taste, I find memories of taste and place getting triggered in my head.
The summer I turned thirteen, I tasted raw sugar cane for the first time. We drove through thick and humid July air from New Orleans across Lake Pontchartrain to the small farm of my great-grandparents, the Magees, who had raised cows, chickens, and vegetables on a plot of land near Franklinton along the Bogue Chitto River.
Back then, my aunt was living in a trailer near their rain-rotted farmhouse that backed up against the woods. She was bulldozing a trail to open a path down to the river through the moss-hung forest. She carried a shotgun in case of snakes – Cottonmouths and Water Moccasins – that lay hidden among the bogs and cypress knees at the river’s edge.
My sisters Jennifer and Erin and I named parts of the new trail: there was Ant Hill where stinging ants industriously pushed brick-red soil into volcano-cones that popped up in a surreal Dr. Seuss village along the side of the steep trail; Elephant Ear Run where docile, gigantic leaves swayed making leathery sounds in the breeze that blew up from the shadowed wood; and Banana Spider Bridge, a dirt trail that extended out across the swampy swill that seeped in from the river and lined with trees filled with the vast webs of black and yellow spiders.
Over the years, we revisited the old farm, but the trail down to the river was never the same. The woods had overgrown the path here and there, and the river had bent and flooded and changed the landscape.
You can never walk the exact same path of your youth, just as you can never eat the same peach twice.
Peaches are singular and can leave a unique mark on your palate (and memory) that, due to weather and harvest conditions, may never again grace your mouth in the same way.
I encourage you to try to notice the taste changes week by week as we bring new peaches into the Harvest and Season’s Best mixes.