One of the few child-rearing theories I subscribe to is to "feed 'em on peaches."
This advice does not come from Drs. Benjamin Spock and T. Berry Brazelton, the well-regarded pediatricians whose books on child care sit on my shelves. Instead it comes from a lyric in a John Prine song. Prine is a Kentucky minstrel whose albums spin on my stereo. In one song Prine counsels his listeners to have a lot of children, feed 'em on peaches, let 'em find Jesus on their own.
The "feed-'em-on-peaches theory" is one of the few child-development theories I have had any success with. On the whole I've found this parent business to be an enterprise where the advice manuals go out the window, and you rely mainly on "on-the-job training."
But with the peaches, it has been different.
The kids eat them. I am not sure why. Peaches don't have any of the characteristics of their other favorite foods. They aren't wrapped in neon packages with promises of loot inside. They don't need to be heated in the microwave. Some of the peaches may be mutants, but they don't flaunt it. They aren't frosted.
Strangely, the kids eat peaches even though they are nutritious. Peaches are rich in potassium and vitamins A, B and C, mainly in the skin.
Perhaps the reason the fruit appeals to kids is that eating a fresh peach is so messy. The juice flows out of peach down the front of a T-shirt like water over Niagara Falls. I've seen a mere half-dozen peaches wipe out an entire week's worth of laundry.
Maybe another reason the theory has worked is that the peach crop is exceptionally full of flavor this year. Sweeter peaches seems to be the one benefit of the hot, dry conditions we suffered through earlier in the summer.
As Doris Warthen, a clerk at the Pryor Orchard in Thurmont, told "Peaches like the heat." She described this year's peach as "smaller but sweeter" than previous years.
For a more technical explanation of how rain can make peaches bigger but blander, I turned to Rick Heflebower, regional fruit specialist for the University of Maryland Cooperative Extension Service.
"A lot of moisture pumps up the fruit, the cells expand and the flavor may not be enhanced," he said.
This year, instead of worrying about excess rainfall, peach growers have been grateful for any moisture, Heflebower said, in a phone interview from Washington County.
In Heflebower's estimation, this year's Western Maryland peach crop is "better than I expected. The peaches have not been as large as some growers would like. But the flavor has been excellent."
A final reason I enjoy feeding my kids peaches is that peaches were a part of my past.
As a kid I remember eating summer breakfasts of toast slathered with homemade peach preserves and bowls of cornflakes covered with thick peach slices.
In the evenings the entire family would pile into the Studebaker to go for a drive. The drive had two purposes. First, it cooled everyone off -- this was in days before air conditioning. Second, the drive ended at an ice-cream factory. There my brothers and I were allowed to eat chocolate chip and strawberry ice cream cones as long as we did not carry the cones inside the car. As we sat on the bumpers of the car, dripping our strawberry ice cream onto the parking lot, my mother and father sat inside the car enjoying a moment of peace, and some fresh peach ice cream.
In the winter we ate canned peaches. At the end of supper I would be dispatched to the basement to retrieve a treat for dessert, a jar of peaches that my mother and grandmother had sealed up months ago in sweet syrup, during the prime peach days of August.
Nowadays I always mean to get around to "putting up some peaches," the way my mother did. But I never quite pull it off. When I have the time, I don't have the ambition. I never have the required Mason jars.
So I do what so many people do when they are unhappy with themselves: I nag. I try to badger my wife, the real baker in the household, into making a peach pie.
If my nagging fails, I still have some fall-back favorites I can prepare myself.
I peel a peach, slice it, put it in a bowl and pour cream over it.
Or I pour some champagne in a glass and drop in a little peach juice and big peach slice. Neither of these concoctions reminds me of childhood. But then, there are few benefits of growing up.
As Prine might sing it, "Peel those peaches, drop 'em in champagne, send those children far away from home."