My father loved white peaches. We were year round pie people but in summer, particularly August, peaches held center stage. Thick yellow wedges bubbling through rick-rack lattice made an appearance most Sunday evenings. White peaches however, were to be eaten out of hand, their quiet sweetness dripping from chin to fingertips. The only delicious exception was tucking them between cream biscuits into an old-fashioned shortcake.
The woman responsible for my pie and biscuit education was Jessie, my grandmother’s housekeeper. My father and Jessie would banter back and forth across the kitchen about peaches; yellow vs. white, pie vs. shortcake. The determining factor was dictated by the calendar. White peach season was brief; spanning a few short weeks between homework free, firefly-dotted evenings and the dreaded back-to-school of autumn. Yellow peaches were a treat, white peaches a cherished summer luxury.
Two fruit farms were situated equidistant from our house. The elusive white peaches came exclusively from London Fruit Farm, their flashy yellow counterparts from Joe’s. Dressed in his requisite short-sleeved, classic plaid button down shirt, my father would announce he was heading ‘up the hill’ for peaches. I was an eager passenger, fiddling with the radio dial, searching for New York’s WABC. Per Jessie’s directive, we made a quick stop at the A&P for an extra pint of heavy cream.
There was little signage announcing the property owned by David and Marion London. Wooden ladders resting against tree trunks heralded the entrance. Blush pink freestones in broad slatted wicker baskets warmed themselves in the sun. The heat of the car only enhanced their floral fragrance. I carefully balanced the baskets of fruit on my lap, leaning in and out as the car wound down one curve and up another.
At home, the Formica counter was free of peach pie fixings; the red Pyrex mixing bowl and box of Minute tapioca dozed in the kitchen cabinet. Jessie, eyes on the baseball game humming from the television, reached for a well-worn potholder. The biscuits had risen dramatically in the oven, elbowing each other for space on the cookie sheet. I placed the baskets of peaches on the kitchen table as Jessie set the biscuits to cool on a wire rack. My offer to whip the heavy cream came with the understanding that any cream left on the beaters would be mine. Jessie handed me a Tupperware canister filled with Domino sugar and a small bottle of vanilla extract. “Leave some cream for your father,” she reminded me. My father’s idea of shortcake featured pouring cream, not whipped cream. I poured most of the heavy cream into a mixing bowl, the rest into a chubby white pitcher with a dimpled spout.
The following morning, I watched my father help himself to a cup of Eight O’Clock coffee from the glass Chemex. Placing a leftover biscuit in a cereal bowl, he split it in half, added a few rosy edged peach slices, and poured the last of the heavy cream on top. Clearly one girl’s shortcake was another man’s breakfast.
Recently, as July faded into August, I found myself retracing some familiar roadways. A quiet country road spilled into a very upscale neighborhood with impressive signage touting The London Farms Development. With the sun pouring through the car’s open windows, I could almost detect the fragrance of peaches.