Ark of Taste
Belle of Georgia Peach
I met Miss Mountain Rosy in the orchard yesterday,
With cheeks of velvet blushes that the rain won’t wash away.
And also fair Elberta and Belle of Georgia too.
And they were sweet as honey when the rose is wet with dew.
I plucked a few and held them in my hand but couldn’t eat,
They seemed like angels pleading at the very mercy seat:
But, oh, they were so juicy, and I know I’ll taste them yet
In dreams of fruited orchards that the heart cannot forget.
– Bentown Bard
Upon reading this poem, one would think its muse was the most luscious of summer loves. But indeed, this poem was titled and written about Peaches. And what other peach could inspire such salivation as the Belle of Georgia? Described simply as “a classic white-fleshed peach, firm of texture yet succulent, with a honeyed sweetness”, it’s easy to understand why from year to year, Georgian residents looked forward to the two weeks in August when peach trees ripened and bore large, luminously white peaches with regal crimson sun-kissed cheeks. Who, young or old, could resist flocking to orchards to pick and eat the fresh fruit?
The Belle of Georgia heirloom peach (also known as Prunus persica) was developed by Lewis A Rumph of Marshallville, Georgia, and it debuted in 1870. Due to robust production and hardiness in transit, it grew to prominence and outstripped both the Mountain Rosy and the Amelia to become the most popular peach by the end of the 19th century. It was adopted for cultivation in Texas, California and Florida and sold throughout the country by the early 1900s.
From its flavorful description, its not surprising that this peach is one of the few of the old peaches still grown by home and small orchardists in the US in the 21st century. Among commercial growers, however, this peach variety was abandoned in favor of peaches developed for “taste, appearance and handling qualities.” But in blind taste tests, few would favor the flavor of the newer varieties to that of the Belle of Georgia.
As of 2016, its availability at orchard produce stands is limited, with Georgia retaining the only reliable sources year after year. Fortunately, (or unfortunately to those of us wishing to feel the run of Belle of Georgia peach juice dripping down our mouths in late summer) home cultivation is currently it’s chief mode of production. For those looking to cultivate this variety, a limited number of commercial landscapers and gardening centers provide bud wood. If you do grow it, be sure to let us know and we’ll all see you in August.
Photo: Courtesy of the USDA Pomological Watercolor Collection, James Marion Schull, September 5, 1911 “Belle of Georgia”