Stonewall, Texas Peach JAMboree & Rodeo
About an hour and a half drive west of Austin lies El Dorado...Not the El Dorado of hidden Spanish gold or the failed escapades of the Raising Arizona bank robbers. Nope, I am talking about the golden deliciousness of the peaches found in Gillespie County, home of the Peach Blossom Trail between and around the towns of Stonewall and Fredericksburg, Texas. Numerous farms and orchards dot the country side making Gillespie County the largest peach producing county in Texas. To give you an idea of the scope of production this area produces 40% of the entire Texas peach crop. The thing about regional peaches is that they are grown for flavor and not to be shipped half way across the country. We have all tried fruit that was grown to be shipped. Sometimes it's very pretty but most often very bland. Yeah...what I am talking about here is a peach that you bite and the flavor explodes as the juice just flows down your face. REAL TASTE! Check out texaspeaches.com for a bounty of information on peaches, growers and more!
Every summer during the third weekend of June, the Stonewall Peach JAMboree takes place celebrating all things related to peaches.The various farmers and orchards enter baskets of peaches, single "perfect" or larger peaches and there is also a contest for best Peach Pie, Peach Cobbler and Peach Preserves. The are also contests for best vegetable and a small regional rodeo that is well worth watching! For a schedule of all the events try this link 2010 Peach JAMboree & Rodeo. Remember too that the roads around the county are blanketed with garden stands selling peaches and all manner of produce so it's a great time to pick up some local goodies while you are there! We enjoy peaches all during the season but prefer the late summer varieties. I am going to write a follow up post and list my favorite farmers and orchards in the area as a guide but do not have the space here so stay tuned!
I like living near this epicenter of peach producers because I love peaches. My family was in the grocery business in West Texas and my Grandfather did business with orchards and farms all over the state and every summer we would receive "sample" crates to enjoy. We used to stuff ourselves on all sorts of varieties including Loring, Bounty, Red Skin, Harvester, Hale Haven and...oh, you did not realize there were so many kinds? The fact is that there are numerous varieties that ripen over the summer starting in May and ending for the most part in August. My Grandmother used to make peach ice cream, peach cobbler and one of my all time favorites...Peach Preserves! Which finally brings me to the subject of this post.
Two years ago, I entered the Peach Preserves contest using my Grandmother Mattie Lewis' recipe and to my surprise took 3rd place. Last year I decided to pay closer attention to the recipe (which is absurdly simple but requires a certain amount of intuitiveness) and ended up in 2nd Place. The funny thing about this contest is that in recent years, 1st Place has been taken by Mr. Jerome Jenschke who I believe is around 86 years old, three years in a row. He is a very friendly sort despite the lack of a smile in the picture. This has become something of an issue with many of what I like to call the "Grandma Cartel". I am just kidding when I say this but last year my wife was hanging around the winners display and heard some grumbling about "men in the kitchen". Later in the summer, I was in the area with my friend, Jeff Blank of Hudson's on the Bend restaurant to pick up some more peaches (Dixieland and Ouachita Gold) and at one location a gentleman stopped me and said, "Hey young fella" (I liked that) Aren't you the fella that placed in the peach preserves contest with Mr. Jenschke the last two years?" Yes sir, I replied, to which he said, "well, you need to go in there and talk the lady here!" We went in and actually had a very amusing visit but I could not get over the bewilderment she had at the idea of "men in the kitchen". It's still old school in some places and pretty funny so I always answer that it's safer than the rodeo and a bucking bronco contest!
This year I made another batch to enter but I am a bit worried. My friend Jeff Blank , a world class chef, always tells me that you must start with the best ingredients so my secret has been to use late summer peaches from the previous season that I freeze in bulk. We always freeze several bags for peach pie, cobbler and the sort to dine on during the winter months remembering to save enough for my preserves. Well this year...we somehow ate everything so I have been scrambling at the farmers markets, Whole Foods and Central Market here in Austin searching for some good peaches. And yes, they are good but...they do not seem to have that power punch of flavor that comes from late summer peaches. Or maybe as my wife says, "I am way over - thinking this":-) Hmmm...I hope so, I just finished my second batch because the first was "missing something". Here is a brief description located on my russelllewis.posterous blog. And I also noticed that Mr. Jenschke always wore blue (the same as the blue ribbon) and I wore red so maybe a blue shirt will help?? It is the color of the 1st Place ribbon ;-D Anyway, if you have the time, drive out to Stonewall this Saturday for a great time. I guarantee you will thoroughly enjoy the whole, as my Grandfather used to say, "Kit and Caboodle"!! We are certainly living The Good Life in Austin Texas!