Peach sea­son is boom­ing in Penn­syl­va­nia’s Big Val­ley.

At an Amish or­chard in Penn­syl­va­nia’s Big Val­ley, peo­ple ar­rive be­fore sun­rise for ripe, juicy peaches.

Country - - CONTENTS - STORY AND PHO­TOS BY LISA DUCHENE Belleville, Penn­syl­va­nia Lisa Duchene is a writer, es­say­ist and trans­plant to Penn­syl­va­nia’s Big Val­ley. Visit lisa­duch­ for more sto­ries.

Three horse-drawn bug­gies. Two pickup trucks. Three cars. I eyed the gath­er­ing in the gravel lot in front of the big white weath­ered barn at the Amish or­chard on Back Moun­tain Road, and I parked care­fully. In the cool sum­mer morn­ing, we all qui­etly looked each other over, won­der­ing how long we’d have to wait for fresh-picked peaches—or if we would get any at all. I’d hardly ex­pected to be first at just af­ter 7 a.m. Even a trans­plant like me knows when they say “early” in Penn­syl­va­nia’s Big Val­ley they mean about 4 a.m., maybe sooner. By then, our farm town is wide awake. Traf­fic zips along the main road, slic­ing into the corn­fields that blan­ket the val­ley bot­tom and stretch to the base of the moun­tain ridges. Yes­ter­day the woman at our butcher shop in town had di­rected me to an­other or­chard and said she’d heard from a woman who’d ar­rived be­fore 5 a.m. and was sixth in line. Peo­ple are crazy for peaches here in the val­ley at this time of year. Rightly so! Sum­mer’s sweet essence lives in the juicy, del­i­cate flesh of a ripe peach. So eighth in line wasn’t so bad. We all knew who among us was al­ready there when we ar­rived and who had come later. We knew our place. A ch­est­nut horse pulling an open wagon emerged from the trees and trot­ted into view, stop­ping in front of the barn. Two Amish boys held the lines and stood on the buck­board. Not quite teenagers, one wore a bach­e­lor’s but­ton blue shirt and the other a pale blue one—the fa­mil­iar, vi­brant hues of Big Val­ley. Red­dish or­ange peaches filled 18 wheat-col­ored half-bushel bas­kets in the wagon bed. A beau­ti­ful abun­dance! The next per­son in line asked for five bushels—10 bas­kets. Six more peo­ple ahead of me.

The boys un­loaded bas­kets, gen­tly plac­ing them on the gravel drive near the buyer’s buggy or truck, then moved on to the next per­son—of­ten ask­ing to de­ter­mine who was next, as we’d parked in a for­ma­tion more like tossed seeds than a line. When the boys had fin­ished and the horse had rested a bit, one boy nudged the horse back­ward, then to­ward the trees. Then each boy placed a foot in a bro­ken-in, fa­mil­iar spot and climbed back to his driv­ing po­si­tion. The horse’s metal shoes and the wagon’s wheels clat­tered on the pounded dirt lane as the wagon climbed slightly and dis­ap­peared again into the or­chard. More peaches were to come. As they picked the next load, a few of us helped the woman with five bushels trans­fer her trea­sures from the bas­kets to boxes. Peaches can­not be dumped. Each one must be gen­tly moved by hand to avoid bruis­ing the skin. We waited and chat­ted about our peachy plans. One woman said she could al­ready taste the first cob­bler she would make. Mine would be grilled that Satur­day at our an­nual sum­mer party. Our lo­cal fam­ily and friends, plus a few car­loads of out-of-town guests, gather to cel­e­brate the best of sum­mer: fresh toma­toes, roasted corn, grilled peaches, a swim in the lake and catch­ing up. As the sun rose higher and the morn­ing warmed, the peach ladies and I chat­ted with each other and with the mother of the Amish fam­ily who owns the or­chard. She ex­plained that the drought had cut the peach har­vest in half and made them sweeter. The ap­ples would be down, too, she said, but they were thank­ful for the har­vest, what­ever the amount. The wagon came and went two more times. Five and then 10 more cars snaked down the lane. Peo­ple milled and watched. Some napped in their cars. We waited. So did the dirty break­fast dishes in my sink, the emails, the prepa­ra­tions for the party and soon-to-ar­rive guests. No mat­ter. By then I was in­vested and en­joy­ing the com­mu­nity, cool air and gor­geous scenery. Fi­nally, I left with two half­bushel bas­kets—one of Red­haven and an­other of John Boy. That first bite was a de­li­cious rush of nec­tar on my tongue. It be­longs to all that is won­der­ful about sum­mer. A splash of cold wa­ter on a hot, hu­mid after­noon. Float­ing on a river. Moun­tain pies over the camp­fire. Fire­flies danc­ing above the corn­fields. Cool, soft sheets on tired feet at the end of the day. The crack of a home run off a wooden bat. Take the time to sa­vor th­ese plea­sures of sum­mer—for they are both fleet­ing and the salve to all our wor­ries, aches and or­deals, the swift pas­sage of time, the kids grow­ing up too fast. All of it held at bay for awhile.

“Peo­ple are crazy for peaches here in the val­ley at this time of year. Rightly so!”

The first peaches of sum­mer

Amish boys pick and de­liver bushels of ripe peaches by the wag­onload to folks wait­ing in line.

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