If you can't find a great Southern peach right now, feel free to blame a chef. OK, that's not quite fair. There will be a peach shortage in Georgia and South Carolina crops this summer, due to warm winter weather and three freezing days in March. When the weather doesn't dip under 45°F for enough hours, it impedes consistent blooming and the eventual quantity of fruit produced. If trees had already grown blossoms or set fruit, the cold snap snuffed out much of that, and many peach trees just plain old missed the whole cycle this year. Farmers and chefs can surely work some miracles, but thus far none of them have worked out a way to control the weather. Sad.
Some peach trees bore early fruit, and the smartest Southern chefs took swift action. Seeing as a whole bunch of them were all in one place at the Atlanta Food and Wine Festival this past weekend, it made sense to ask them about what makes Southern peaches so special, and how they're dealing with the upcoming peach shortage.
Isaac Toups, chef-owner at Toups' Meatery in New Orleans, Louisiana
I've had peaches across the world and the Southern peach is just like the Southern Gulf shrimp. There's something about the terroir, something about the varietal that is unmatched in flavor. So what I have done is buy every single peach I can get my hands on and turn them into peach jam, peach ice cream—I've been hoarding them. The reason you can't get them is because I bought them. End of story. Peaches fucking rule.
Duane Nutter, chef-owner of Southern National Restaurant in Mobile, Alabama
First of all, we're gonna pay the extra money because of the weather. Unlike Trump, we do know there's something going on with the weather 'cause our crops tell us. So we're just gonna hope for a better crop next year. It's all a weather thing.
It's like the soil and the onion situation. The Vidalia onions—there's just something about them. I've been looking into some peaches. I will keep you posted. I think we're overdue for a peach brandy. Somebody has to get the right species together so we can make peach brandy. That's all I'm saying.
Nathan Duensing, executive chef at Marsh House in Nashville, Tennessee
I've had Michigan peaches and a handful of other peaches from the North. The difference is that juice running down your elbow kind of feeling when you get a good peach in the South. The ones that we've got this year actually were that quality and really fantastic and I think when you bite into those peaches that are indigenous down here, you can't go back to something else. There's a bigger question from the standpoint of the shortage and we need to look at what it is. Whether it's apiaries and bees and if there should be a larger focus on that to ensure that the pollination piece is right. I'm not the one to answer that but I think that's certainly something we should look at. Hopefully this is an isolated issue and we can stop having these cold snaps in the middle of spring that create the issues—at least for my sanity because I would hate to lose peaches. That would be crazy. Especially the ones from the South.
Brian Landry, executive chef at Borgne in New Orleans, Louisiana
The Southern peach that means something to me comes from Ruston, Louisiana. It's important because a lot of those foods taste like home. They become important to individuals because it becomes so intertwined with your food memories. When you can no longer get a great Creole tomato or a Ruston peach, you feel there's a loss. You feel like you can't have something you truly desire. The fact that there's a shortage makes you crave them even more, just like most things in life—when you can't have more of it, you want it more. But I think we will adapt as we always do. Hopefully it's just a one-season thing or a two-season thing and then they come back in a cyclical fashion just like a lot of our products do.
Lisa White, executive pastry chef at the Thompson Hotel in Nashville, Tennessee
Right now I'm just buying as many as I can and processing and preserving. I'm hogging them. The truck comes or I go out and get them and I'm making jam and butters so that I can have them for as long as I can.
Todd Richards, chef at Richards’ Southern Fried in Atlanta, Georgia
Southern peaches are important because they taste delicious. There's that mouthwatering quality that peaches have that just runs down your face. If we don't have them, I'm probably going to sell a lot more watermelon than ever before. I'm from Chicago, but I've lived here since '92. I'm a Southerner now. I just love the way peaches are, but there's definitely a peach shortage and we sell a lot of peach cobbler in the restaurant and there's been no peaches of any quality. So we've done cherry cobbler, apple cobbler, we're working on a sweet potato cobbler right now because sweet potato season is right now. We're really just trying to find a balance. But with no peaches, it doesn't seem like Georgia anymore.
Vish Bhatt, chef at Snackbar in Oxford, Mississippi
To me, somebody who moved here from India and can't get mangos here, peach is the next best thing. Not having a peach is almost like not having a very essential ingredient for what I do in the summer. I'm not exactly sure what I'm going to do. Maybe tomatoes and watermelon. We'll figure it out. Southern peaches have so much flavor. The only fruit better than a peach is a mango, and mango is not a Southern fruit so that leaves the best fruit in the US as a Southern peach and unfortunately we're not going to have them this summer.
Kelly Fields, co-founder of Willa Jean in New Orleans, Louisiana
Southern peaches are the only peaches on the planet worth eating. They're super sweet, super juicy, have the perfect amount of that soft fur skin on them. As far as peach shortage, I'm going to be extremely selfish and buy every peach that I can from every farmer that I have and preserve them, pickle them, do whatever I can to put them away for the year.