Winter torment compounded by lack of peaches


Is there such a malady as fresh Maryland peach withdrawal?

Why can't there be some luscious yellow slices on my Wheaties? Where have all those fuzzy yellowish-pink spheres gone? Is there any justice in being denied a South Mountain beauty? Is vanilla ice cream worth eating without a gloppy canopy of dead-ripe sliced Red Havens?

And why is this past winter still tormenting us during the heat and humidity of July?

The answer is that wicked third week of January, the time of the California earthquake and the first bad ice storm that so crippled the state. You recall the days when nothing moved, when it was so cold the gas company threatened to ration electricity. The bitter subzero cold decimated the one crop that makes enduring a rotten Baltimore July a little less wretched.

Drew Lohr, who has orchards on Snake Lane in Harford County's rolling hills near Churchville, put it this way one day last week: "We're lucky to have a 50 percent crop. We're a little closer to the bay and it helped on those cold nights."

Actually, the grim news word about the peach paucity spread through the Waverly Farmers Market at 32nd and Barclay streets several weeks ago.

There's a house rule that only produce that is locally grown may be sold by the vendors.

Early in June, I inquired about the prospects of some early peaches such as Garnet Beauty or Stark's Early Glow.

No way, no peaches, nothing -- try cherries, blueberries or plums.

got about 400 or 450 peach trees in the orchard and maybe there's a dozen peaches there. There are so few it doesn't pay me to spray and pick them," says Dave Hochheimer, who works his Lineboro orchard with his wife, brother, sister-in-law, father and mother.

Despite this year's major peach disappointment, Dave remains a little optimistic:

"Because the trees didn't produce fruit this year, they will probably be healthier next year," he says.

In the meantime, he suggests that his customers consume summer apples.

"The cider mill is going to open two or three weeks early this year because of the peach shortage. There should be cider by around Labor Day," Mr. Hochheimer says.

Some of the local farmers told me there might be some hope south of Dover, Del., or in places near the Chesapeake or Delaware bays where the temperatures did not get as cold. I'm still waiting to find some.

What peaches I have found taste as if they were made of Styrofoam.

The news is all terrible.

Forget the local Red Havens, the Sun Havens, Lorings, Red Skins, Jersey Queens and Jersey Glows.

Treasure the few that escaped the freeze.

Forget about that gorgeous perfume that scents a kitchen when you've set out a dozen fine specimens overnight to bring out the best in sweet juiciness for rapid consumption in the morning.

Forget the fruit flies that dive bomb mushy peaches.

Forget about the juice that dribbles down your front and leaves a permanent peach stain.

Forget about trying to skin a peach that doesn't want to be skinned.

Forget about buying half a bushel for a few dollars because the crop is so plentiful.

This promises to be a summer without a discussion of the geography of Washington County.

There'll be no conversation about the pros and cons and relative superiority of peaches from South Mountain, Smithsburg, Cavetown, Leitersburg or Ringgold.

The news from Pennsylvania is just as dismal.

York, Adams and Franklin counties were visited by the same withering weather.

Canned, preserved or frozen peaches just don't cut it.

And Jersey crops are dubious too.

A good peach has to possess that local pedigree.

Maybe it's all in the imagination, but let me cling to that in my state of mind.

It grows worse.

I always associated local peaches with the arrival of crepe myrtle season.

Well, it appears as if the winter did a job on this shrub that flowers the shade of ripe watermelon.

My favorite neighborhood crepe myrtles are all sticks this July, too.

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