Soft-crust pies filled with lush peaches

July 10, 2002|By Liz Atwood | Liz Atwood,SUN STAFF

. The deliveries came in a dark-green 1950 Chevy pickup, which kicked up dust as it rolled down our gravel driveway. The truck would stop at our back door, and my grandmother would climb out of the passenger's side holding a tin picnic box.

The treasures inside varied with the season: pumpkin pies in autumn, lemon crackers we called Maw-Maw cookies at Christmastime, chocolate-pudding pies in the spring. In the summer, the tin's riches expanded - strawberry jam, creamed peas, coconut cakes. But for me, none was so welcome as my grandmother's freshly made peach pies.

The peaches we got back then didn't come from the grocery store. We bought them at a peach orchard about a mile from home on the other side of the Hawksbill Creek. Sometime in the middle of July when the sun had grown uncomfortably hot and the days away from school had become too long and boring, my mother would suggest we go get some peaches.

That invitation brought to mind all kinds of sweet treats that were to come: canned preserves, peach ice cream and, of course, the pies. I would drop whatever game I was playing or book I was reading to accompany her. We would drive down the road, past a few other farms that looked much like our own and the others that dotted the Shenandoah Valley - gently rolling cornfields and pastures where lazy Hereford cattle grazed.

I recall little about the size of the orchard or the look of the peach trees that must have lined the hill at the bottom of Stonyman Mountain. The orchard was owned by the Moyers family who for a time ran a canning factory, a small operation in a green metal shed where the local farm wives picked up extra money during the summer.

There were peaches to spare, sold in baskets or plain paper bags - ripe and lush.

Ah, the first peach of summer. I would always be a bit surprised at the way the fuzz tickled my lips and the juice exploded in my mouth and ran down my chin. And inside that soft skin was a fruit as bright yellow as that hot sun that beat down on us.

But as divine as the taste of that first ripe peach of summer was, my grandmother made the peaches taste even better in her pies. While many folks say the hallmark of a good pie is its flaky crust, she made a soft, pliable crust that melted in your mouth. Inside that soft crust, she managed to achieve the perfect filling with just the right amount of fruit that never turned the pie soggy.

I was so crazy about my grandmother's peach pies that once I asked her to make me a pie for my birthday instead of a cake. Somewhere, there must be a picture of me as I blow the candles out on that birthday pie.

Today it's hard to find those delicious peaches of my youth. Forget supermarket peaches. Although growers advise putting peaches in bags to ripen, mine invariably shrink and rot without developing their full flavor.

When I get to the farmers' markets, I can find the peaches as sweet and lush as those I enjoyed as a child. But my grandmother's peach pies are a memory.

I have tried several times to make pies like hers. I've searched cookbooks and Web sites trying to find the secret to that soft, pliable crust, but with no luck. My efforts have pleased my 5-year-old, who declared recently, "You make the best peach pie in the whole world."

But that's because he didn't know my grandmother.

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