has numerous ancient oaks and other varieties of trees that have been around for
a long time, but peach trees are a different story. |
More formally known
as Prunus persica, peach trees are not indigenous to the Lone Star state. They
are believed to have originated in China, migrating from there along the trade
routes to Persia (Iran) and from the Middle East to North Africa and Europe. As
America began to be colonized, Europeans brought peach seedlings with them.
peaches are found around the world, they nevertheless are picky about where they
will grow. They do best in sandy soil and climates with the right number of freezing
The commercial hot spots in Texas, which
ranks ninth in the nation in production of peaches, are the Hill
Country, particularly Gillespie and surrounding counties, East
Texas around Smith County and Northwest
Texas, centered in Montague and adjoining counties.
calls itself the Peach Capital of Texas. The 4,000
or so acres of peach trees in the Hill
Country produce about a third of the state’s peach crop each year.
they grow, if a peach tree reaches 30, it has lived an unusually long life. Indeed,
most peach trees seldom make it past their first decade of existence. |
what made the peach tree outside the old stone structure in Burnet
at the site of Fort Croghan so unusual. No one could remember how long it had
stood there, but every summer, it still bore tasty if somewhat tart peaches.
famed Second Dragoons established the fort in 1849 to protect the area from hostile
Indians. After the military abandoned the post overlooking Hamilton Creek in 1853,
settlers moved into some of the old government structures, including the small
rock building where the peach tree still flourished in the early 1960s.
Some said whoever had lived there must have planted the tree. Others said its
proximity to the entrance of the structure indicated someone might simply have
discarded a moist peach seed that took root and flourished on its own.
it came to be at Fort Croghan, the fruit tree had been there for a good while.
I first saw the tree, and tasted its fruit, in the summer of 1963. A precocious
teenager as interested in Texas history as girls and cars, I attended (thanks
to my late mother, who drove me there) the annual meeting of the Burnet County
They met at the old fort every year for a potluck
picnic topped off with a cobbler made by Mrs. L.C. Ross from the peach tree that
grew at the fort.
She had been president of the society in 1960, they
year the group began working to restore the old fort. While at the site that year,
she told me later, she picked the choicest peaches from the tree “before the squirrels
and birds got to them.” She baked them in a cobbler and a tradition had begun.
longevity of that Fort Croghan peach tree is all the more unusual considering
the care a peach tree normally requires. It has to be pruned after the first hard
freeze in the fall, a process that must continue through early spring when the
trees bloom. Since the trees normally produce more fruit than they can ripen,
they have to been thinned of fruit to keep peaches spaced six to eight inches
Too, a peach tree takes a lot of water, weeding, and insect and
disease control. Another venerable peach tree once grew in Lampasas County. In
the early 1930s, a tree belonging to L.W. McCrea measured six feet in circumference.
At the time (1934) it was considered one of the oldest peach trees in Texas.
McCrea said his family planted the tree in the late 1860s or early 1870s.
few years after enjoying my first Croghan Cobbler, I was with my granddad when
he stopped to buy some peaches at a roadside stand between Fredericksburg
we walked in the tent, two women about my granddad’s age sat happily gossiping
away in German. As granddad selected a basket of peaches, they continued their
conversation, secure in their belief that the older man and teenage boy – obviously
tourists -- knew nothing of the language they spoke.
What they did not
know was that my granddad’s last name was Wilke. His grandfather, Herman Wilke,
had settled in Fredericksburg
in 1850. Granddad grew up hearing German spoken and all those years later, still
knew a little.
As we walked away, the women resumed their German discussion.
Suddenly, acting as if he’d almost forgotten his manners, Granddad stopped and
turned toward the gossips.
“Danke schon,” he said with a smile. Realizing
he must have understood what they had been talking about, the women froze worse
than a peach orchard hit by a late-March norther.
Mrs. Ross’ Croghan
Cobbler recipe Boil
a quart of peeled and cut peaches until tender.
1 ˝ cup sugar
1 tablespoon cinnamon
˝ tablespoon nutmeg
˝ stick butter or margarine
˝ cup water
7/8 cup lard or oil
Pinch of salt and
enough flour to make stiff dough.
Roll out on floured board, cut dough in
strips and lay over half the fruit in a shallow baking dish or pan. Add the rest
of the peaches and another layer of dough.
Bake at 425 degrees until bubbly
with a brown crust.
Invite author of this column to sample it.
August 21, 2008 column
Related Topics: Food
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