Summers are peachy in South Carolina—literally. Second only to California in production, the Palmetto State is a peach heavyweight with more than 50,000 tons of the fruit harvested annually. (And, yes, that’s more than Georgia!) In fact, the peach was named the official state fruit in 1984.
Historians say peaches were first grown in China before finding their way to Europe. They were introduced to this continent by the Spanish in the 1600s, but it took more than a century for South Carolinians to try their hand at cultivation. In the 1850s, South Carolina-grown peaches debuted outside the state when grower Henry William Ravenel of Aiken made his first commercial peach shipment. Lots of farmers jumped on the peach wagon following the Civil War, and a South Carolina agricultural tradition was born.
Today, farm stand vendors hawking baskets of the rosy fruit are fixtures along the state’s highways and byways during the season. Go ahead and make a pit stop for some of the juiciest, sweetest peaches you’ll ever taste.
Here are some fun facts and a few tips for selecting the perfect South Carolina peach.
You might be surprised to discover that peaches have some familiar relatives.
Peaches belong to the genus prunus, which means they are part of the rose family, as are apricots, almonds, plums and cherries.
If you’ve ever eaten the inside of the peach pit, you might have been reminded of an almond. That’s because the two are closely related.
Nectarines are peaches too, minus the fuzz.
Types of Peaches
There are three types of peaches you’ll see at different points in the season: clingstone, semi-freestone and freestone.
Clingstone: the flesh of the peach “clings” to the pit; available mid-May to mid-June.
Semi-freestone: a hybrid variety in which the flesh clings, but becomes easier to pull away as the peach ripens; available mid-June to mid-July.
Freestone: the peach flesh cleanly separates from the pit, making it the preference of home canners; available late July to mid-August or early September.
Yellow vs. White
The differences in these two kinds of fruit go beyond color.
Yellow-fleshed peaches have a longer shelf life; these are the ones commonly seen in grocery stores.
White peaches tend to be sweeter and less acidic, but have a much shorter shelf life.
Varieties of Peaches
South Carolina farmers grow about 40 varieties of peaches. Some of the most common include:
Gold Prince (cling)
Blaze Prince (semi-freestone)
Summer Gold (freestone)
Big Red (freestone)
Pick Your Peach
To find the South Carolina peaches of your dreams, rely upon sight, touch and smell.
Don’t judge a peach by its reddish color as the pretty blush is nothing more than that—pretty. According to the South Carolina Peach Council, look for skin that has a soft, yellowish hue; any green areas indicate the peach is not yet ripe.
You want to choose a peach that is “firm-ripe,” that is, one that is firm, but gives slightly when you gently press it.
While you can eat a firm-ripe peach, allowing it to sit on the kitchen counter until it is softer, or “dead-ripe,” ensures the ultimate flavor. Only refrigerate after the peach has achieved “dead-ripe” status.
Follow your nose to flesh out peaches at the peak of goodness. That irresistible sweet fragrance is a strong clue that the fruit you’re considering is ready for eating.
Finally, check the label to make sure your peach is South Carolina grown. That’s your guarantee that you’re getting the freshest, sweetest, juiciest peaches on earth.
Eat up! This is one food that not only tastes good, but is good for you too. One large, juicy globe delivers an impressive shot of vitamin C and is a good source of vitamins A and B. It also offers three grams of fiber. You get all that for just 70 calories—that’s a nutritional bargain!