Jerry Nelson: Stone fruit season

Jerry Nelson
Special to the Farm Forum
Rich Bennett's daughter, Brooke, tends to the World's Largest Peach Cobbler at the Peach Festival in Sioux Falls.

It’s the time of the year when many of us get stoned.

I’m not talking about that so-called “wacky tobaccy” or any other such substance. What I mean is that we are in the heart of the stone fruit season.

There aren’t many stone fruits that are grown in our neck of the woods. As such, we look forward to this time of year, when such exotic offerings as fresh cherries, plums and apricots become available. Few things are more wondrous than biting into a peach that’s so juicy that your chin resembles a waterfall. The mere thought of fresh peach slices floating on a cloud of vanilla ice cream is enough to make me swoon.

Everyone canned fruit and veggies in the summertime when I was a kid. It was something that was simply expected. If folks found out that you didn’t do any canning, you would be regarded with suspicion, like someone who was rumored to be in the witness protection program.

As the stone fruit season wore on, a parade of various lugs of fruit would appear in the pantry of our farmhouse. Prying off the lid of a lug was like opening a treasure chest. Our family of ten was ape for apricots, passionate about peaches, and plumb crazy for plums. And you couldn’t help but feel special when you munched on cherries that were named after Bing Crosby.

At the height of the summertime heat, our farmhouse’s kitchen would be filled with steaming kettles. The kitchen table would be crowded with Mason jars that were stuffed full of fruit. Jars that were the epitome of the phrase “too hot to handle.”

We were ahead of our time in that our kitchen stove could be heated with either LP gas or renewable fuels. The renewable fuel of choice was often corn cobs.

My wife and I recently attended an event that was focused on stone fruits. Specifically, we went to the annual Peach Festival in Sioux Falls.

The centerpiece of the Peach Festival was The World’s Largest Peach Cobbler. Measuring eleven feet long by five feet wide by eight inches thick, The World’s Largest Peach Cobbler is too big to fit into anyone’s oven. That problem was circumvented by building an oven around the cobbler.           

This was accomplished by stacking several courses of cinder blocks in a rectangular fashion. The cavities of the cinder blocks were filled with sand, giving the oven additional thermal mass. A humungous LP gas burner was placed inside the rectangle and a large pan was suspended above the burner. Nothing to it!

I chatted with Brooke Bennett, who was tending The World’s Largest Peach Cobbler. Brooke’s father, Rich, is the chief cobbler chef. Brooke and Rich hail from Peach County, Georgia which is the only other place in the world where this colossal cobbler is concocted.

I asked Brooke for their recipe.

“We use 90 pounds of butter, 150 pounds of sugar, 150 pounds of flour, 32 gallons of milk and 75 pounds of fresh sliced peaches,” she replied.

How long does it take to make this thing?

“Dad started at 2:00 a.m. and turned off the burner at about 8:00 a.m. We let the cobbler rest after that. The oven retains enough heat to keep the cobbler warm for a long time.”

What’s the best way to enjoy this cobbler?

“Topped with some of our peach ice cream, of course, Brooke replied with a smile. “Our peach ice cream is made with our family’s secret recipe.”

This matter clearly needed to be investigated more thoroughly. I had to follow all the leads, despite the very real risk that I could be exposed to mass quantities of deliciousness.

I obtained a serving of peach cobbler and asked that it be topped with their ice cream. My word! It was like eating peaches topped with peaches and cream which, I guess, was technically the case.

In the nearby VFW, there was — surprise! — metric tons of peaches for sale. There were also cherries, which made me think of that guy who’s widely known for crooning “White Christmas.”

Various arts and crafts were also offered. But what I brought home was a particular type of salsa. Peach, of course.

My wife and I probably purchased more peaches and cherries than we’ll be able to eat fresh. But we’re going to give it a good try.

That evening, we sat back and basked in the aftermath of meal that consisted almost entirely of fresh fruit.

“How are you doing?” I asked my wife as I mopped peach juice from my chin.

She grinned at me and replied, “I feel a little stoned.”  

If you'd like to contact Jerry Nelson to do some public speaking, or just to register your comments, you can email him at jjpcnels@itctel.com. His book, “Dear County Agent Guy,” is available at Workman.com and at booksellers everywhere.