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Peaches 

Taste

During summer in the Carolina Piedmont, the definition of the sense of taste can be summed up in one word: peaches. Bite into a plump, ripe peach at the end of a hot, humid day and let the nectar drip down your chin. Chew the sweet, delicate meat of the fruit and you can imagine that, if heaven could be captured in a flavor, this would be it.

If you want good peaches, skip the grocery store and travel to a peach stand, often located close to the orchards where the fuzzy fruit was grown. And if you want the full taste experience, the delicious essence of great peaches, there's one place you don't want to miss. Georgia may call itself the Peach State, and Pageland, SC, may grow excellent fruit, but everybody knows Peach Central is Gaffney, SC. Just 50 miles down I-85, Gaffney is the town marked by the Peachoid, the giant peach-shaped (some say butt-shaped) water tower next to the highway.

In the 1940s, Italian immigrant and fruit grower Vincent Caggiano moved to Gaffney from New Jersey and founded the legendary (at least in peach-eating circles) Sunny Slope Farms. Ever since, people have driven to Gaffney to buy baskets of what locals used to call God's Own Fruit, bringing them home to enjoy in pies, cobblers, pound cakes, homemade peach ice cream or, my favorite, by themselves.

When you get to Gaffney, just look for signs directing you to a variety of peach stands. Look for the sweet-smelling fruit that gives a little to your touch. You don't want peaches that still show even a trace of green, or ones that have soft spots.

Early varieties that should be ready now are Empress, Sunbrite and Gold Prince, all "clingstones," meaning you'll have to gnaw the pit to get all the fruit off. In June, semi-freestone varieties, such as June Prince or Harvesters, arrive. Peach fanatics swear that July peaches, most of them freestones, are the most delicious, especially Sun Prince, Red Globe and the classic Elberta, which dates to the early 19th century.

July is also when Gaffney hosts the South Carolina Peach Festival, a multi-day event featuring music, peaches, arts and crafts, peaches, parades, peaches, golf tournaments, and more peaches. For more information on this year's festival, call 864-489-9066, or go to www.scpeachfestival.org.

One last bit of advice: Buy an extra basket of peaches for the road or you'll be disappointed in how few are left in your cache by the time you get home.

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