The state of Georgia produces the finest quality peaches, with its excellent texture, appearance, and nutritional values. In 1995, Georgia declared the peach as their state fruit, and the Georgia peach soon gained popularity, being featured on the Georgia quarter. Georgia was nicknamed as “The Peach State,” leaving us to wonder, what makes the Georgia Peach so unique?
Georgia is not the biggest producer of peaches, and neither are peaches the biggest crop in Georgia. The Reconstruction and boll weevil forced farmers to switch to alternative crops such as pecans, apples, onions, and peaches that have made Georgia famous today.
In Georgia, the red clay soil, combined with moderate humidity, set the perfect weather and conditions to grow the juiciest, sweetest, Georgia peach. Despite the ideal climate and growing conditions, peaches are available fresh only for 16 weeks in a year, spanning from mid-May to August. What makes these even more remarkable is that they are sold fresh and natural, with as minor processing as possible. This helps retain their natural taste, smell, and texture, giving consumers the best experience.
We have heard a lot about the Georgia peach, its delectable taste, peachy smell, and fuzzy texture. Although native to Asia, they have thrived in the US, especially in Georgia. The Georgia peach has a vivid history and a success credited to the hard-working laborers in orchards. While the Southern region was more focused on growing cotton and corn that required less expertise, they went on to grow peaches, which eventually led to their present fame.
Here, we have ten unknown facts about the Georgia peach, giving you an insight into how it came into the country and how it took over Georgia and elevated it to fame.
The Advent of the Georgia Peach
It is said that peaches were introduced to Georgia by Franciscan monks, who visited the coastal regions of St. Simons and Cumberland Islands in 1571.
Peach cultivation was then taken up by the Cherokee Indians, who produced peaches and plums by the mid-1700s.
The 18th century saw the first peaches being planted in Georgia, and the mid-19th century saw commercial production of peaches. Raphael Moses first marketed the Georgia peach. A Confederate officer from Columbus, he sold peaches within Georgia in 1851. He is also credited for being the first person to ship Georgia peaches for sale outside the Southern markets.
New York got its first taste of the delectable Georgia peaches between 1858 and 1860, and the Georgia peach traversed the market from thereon.
Another town credited for Georgia peaches is Marshallville, a small town with roughly 1,400 people. It was here that a new, perfect variety of peaches took root in Georgia. Samuel H. Rumph and his family settled in Marshallville towards the second half of the 19th century. He planted peach seeds that were cross-pollinated with a Chinese Clingstone variety by his grandfather.
These trees grew to produce the first novel variety of peaches that were perfected within five years of planting. Mr. Rumph named these juice, tasty, and delicious peaches after his wife, Elberta. He also designed refrigerated rail cars to transport these peaches and ship them to the eastern markets. Until 1960, the Elberta was the leading peach variety produced in Georgia, after which new types came into being.
Mr. Rumph’s home still stands in Marshallville (now Macon County), and the Georgia peach took root all around Macon County.
Georgia Peach – The Southern Belle
As Georgia grew famous for their rosy, fuzzy peaches, there came the new norm of referring to a maiden as a Georgia peach, regarding her rosy cheeks and youth. Peaches bruise easily and must not be squeezed or squished, and this delicate nature is attributed to a young maiden. Even today, peaches symbolize beauty and delicacy, along with their succulent nature.
Father of Peach Culture
Prosper was a horticulturist trained by Louis Berckmans, a physician. Both these Belgian Natives migrated to the US in the 1850s. Here, Prosper worked on developing varieties of plants more suited for cultivation and growth in the country’s south and southeast regions.
Prosper improved and developed new varieties of peaches, some of which include the Chinese Cling and South Chinese. He also developed the Elberta, Thurber, and Bella varieties from the Chinese Cling.
The Thurber was the leading variety of Georgia peach until the Elberta came along, which stayed until 1960, after which newer, improved varieties came into being.
Fruitland Nurseries/ Berckmans’ Nursery
Operated by Louis Berckman and family from 1858 to 1918, it was here that Prosper worked on developing newer, more optimized varieties of plants and introducing more plants to the Southern town that would soon be known as the home of the Georgia peach.
Among the plans and fruits they introduced were the Japanese persimmon, Kelsey plum, kumquat, and hardy Japanese lemon hedge (Citrus trifoliata). The Berckmans’ nursery was also responsible for the growing popularity of flowers in the region.
So, what has become of the Fruitland nursery today? The Augusta National Clubhouse, familiar from movies, stands at the manor house of the Berckmans’ nursery. The grounds of the greenhouse now host the Augusta National Golf Club, which is the venue for the annual Master’s Tournament.
Member of the Rose Family
Have you ever wondered why peaches smell so sweet and pleasing? The Georgia peach has a distinct, soft smell akin to roses, which is not surprising considering that they are members of the rose family.
8 Million Bushels in a Year?
Georgia had a boom of peach production in the year 1928 when they produced a total of 8 million bushels. If you are doubtful about how much a bushel is, a bushel is approximately 9.3 liquid gallons, which is the highest recorded Georgia peach harvest so far. Currently, they produce an average of 2.6 million bushels annually.
There Are Over 40 Varieties of Peaches Grown in Georgia
The Georgia peach is famous due to its delectable, juicy taste, and Georgia produces a wide variety of these delicious peaches. They cultivate and harvest over 40 types of peaches, divided into three categories: freestone, clingstone, and semi-free.
Georgia has two main peach production regions for commercial purposes, the central region and the southern region. Peaches from the central region constitute 83% of their state’s total production, and 17% of the peaches produced come from the southern part of the state.
Georgia Peach Blossom Festivals
From 1922 to 1926, peach blossom festivals were held in Fort Valley, Georgia, the heart of the booming Georgia peach industry. The festival consisted of barbeques, pageants, and a dramatized version of the peach belt story. Each year, they show the Georgia peach story, portrayed by a young woman seeking a husband and a home in different parts of the world, traveling from China to Persia, proceeding to Spain and Mexico, finally settling in Georgia.
The festival received a lot of attention, with almost 20,000 visitors to a town populated by approximately 4000 people. The celebration of the Georgia peach was attended by many eminent members of Congress and governors.
World’s Largest Peach Cobbler
The Georgia peach festival also hosts the venue for making the largest peach cobbler globally, with dimensions of 11 x 5 feet, and a thickness of 8 inches. You can taste this tasty dish for free as it is made annually during the festival.
World’s Heaviest Peach
If you aren’t impressed with the Georgia peach yet, you haven’t heard that they are home to the most decadent peach in the world. Georgia produces some of the world’s tastiest peaches, and in 2018, they bagged the Guinness World Record for the heaviest peach in the world.
Weighing 1.8 pounds, this peach from Pearson farm, Peach County, broke the World record set by a 1.75-pound peach from Roseridge Orchards, Canada. Typically, peaches weigh about one-third of a pound to half a pound, and this extraordinary specimen grew naturally, without any extra care or supplements.
The Georgia peach has grown to become Georgia’s face, with its long history and widespread roots. Today, you can find the Georgia peach industry spread across the counties of Macon, Peach, Crawford, and Taylor. The annual Georgia Peach festival conducted in Byron and Fort valley celebrates the fruit, prosperity, and how it uplifted a small town of people.
While peaches are liked by most for their texture and taste, it is said that none can match the scrumptious, juicy, yet smooth and fuzzy Georgia peach. You can choose the best Georgia peach by going for the ones with a yellow or creamy golden color underneath, with a soft and smooth texture.
The ones with a red or bluish shade indicate different varieties. They will have a distinct, pleasant, peachy smell to them, and a well-defined crease that runs along with the peach from the stem to the point.
If you are a peach enthusiast and wish to explore the Georgia peach festival, make sure you keep your calendars free for June 4-5 and June 12 in 2021! It’s going to be a fun-packed experience taking you to a journey through time and history, along with a spread of the best Georgia peach delicacies and stalls.