Cats and Peaches

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By Chris Mittelstaedt

When my grandfather was in his 80s, weak and suffering through the New Orleans summer heat, a dark yellow cat appeared at his back door in Metairie, Louisiana. The house was raised up on cinder blocks and had a lawn of firm, sharp St. Augustine grass, which grows out of the sandy Mississippi silt in yards in that part of the world.

The cat would sit on the cool gray concrete steps leading to the house from the backyard and rest in the shade of the massive pecan tree. Next to it was a small peach tree that my grandfather had planted when my sister Erin was born. My grandmother didn't like the idea of a stray in the house and refused the cat entry no matter how much he cried.

Finally, when my grandmother was out getting her hair done and didn't have a say in the matter, my grandfather opened the slightly bent aluminum screen door to let the cat in. My grandfather was a gentle, kind man with a checkered past--he never spoke about his bootlegging days in the 1930s or the pugilist instincts of his youth - the sepia remnants of which we found in photos hidden in drawers or corners of the attic. I knew him as the gentle ex-drugstore owner who helped people get through whatever was ailing them.

My grandfather called the cat "Crisco" and the dog "stupid," which seemed appropriate since the Pekingese enjoyed exclusively attacking the tender feet of those under the age of 12. The cat would sit on my grandfather's bed, in which he was spending more and more time, and groom himself. In a few weeks the cat had transformed its coat from dark yellow to pure white.

I often think that Crisco should have been called "Peach." Peaches originated in China. White peaches have much less acid and therefore are sweeter than yellow ones. Yellow peach varieties get their wonderful tart and sweet flavor from its ratio of acids to sugars.

To pick a ripe peach, give a gentle squeeze; it should yield to the touch and have a sweet aroma. I have found from my years of picking, handling, and tasting peaches that they seem to have concentrated sweetness in the areas with a darker blush.

During the summer, peach varieties change every week so go to to see what is in your regional box. Enjoy and be fruitful!


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