67-County Alabama Garden Party: Chilton County

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The Alabama honeysuckle border was inspired by an 18th century, Southern applique quilt. (left) Chilton County Fresh Peach Bruschetta with a Southern Peach Julep (right)

The Cullman Tribune is celebrating the Alabama Bicentennial (1819-2019) with statewide field reporting by Alabama Master Gardener/Botanical Artist Ben Johnson South. This year-long feature, “The 67-County Alabama Garden Party,” will spotlight different counties each week. Each county will get its own “quilt block,” along with a historical profile, and we’ll share a recipe specific to the area. At the end of the year, all 67 counties will be put in a book to commemorate the Bicentennial.

Chilton County

What is your earliest memory of tasting something delicious? It could even be before you spoke a recognizable word. But, BABY YOU said, “Mmmm…”

Chilton County peaches may be the first time I connected A SPECIAL PLANT + A SPECIAL PLACE. My childhood home was in north Alabama where the soil is very fertile, but it’s not hot enough for most varieties of peaches to thrive.

Peaches (Prunus persica) were an exotic fruit that “came from away.” My dad worked with the lawmakers in Montgomery and one mid-1950s summer Mama added a note to his “Honey Do List” for him to stop in Clanton on his way home and bring her Chilton County peaches to preserve and for us to crank ice cream.

I remember the perfumed fragrance Dad’s pre-factory air-conditioned Oldsmobile had from the peaches. Taste is 90% smell, and I recall the luscious delight of my senses as the sweet-dripping peach juice gushed out the sides of my smiling mouth tickled by the peach fuzz on those golden orbs.

“Persikorna ar de basta.” That is Swedish for “The peaches are the best.” Why Swedish on the 67-County Alabama Garden Party? It was Scandinavian farmers settling in Chilton County who planted the first peach orchards and launched our state’s successful cultivation of superior peaches. Oh, you thought of Georgia and peaches. We Alabamians find Georgia peaches so hard we imagine Tiger Woods practices with them in Augusta.

“Meet me at ‘The Peach’” is a common phrase for folks connecting in the middle of Alabama in the 21st century. The water tower which is prominent on Interstate 65 near Clanton is in the shape of a giant, sunset yellow peach. Those stereotypically stoic peach farmers from Sweden, Norway, Finland and Denmark would be so charmed by this public salute they might actually flash some pearly teeth when they proudly smiled.

Thorsby, Alabama was the first planned community in Chilton County. The locals affectionately called it “Swede Town.” The original founders were three Swedes: Theodore Thorson, John Peterson, John Hedberg, and a Norwegian, K.G. Faegre.

Thorsby was founded in 1895 and incorporated in 1901. What attracted the farmers to this part of the United States was the promise of good soil, plenty of fresh water, warm temperatures and a long season for crops to grow. Alabama had two other Scandinavian colonies at the turn of the 20th century: Fruithurst in Cleburne County and Silver Hill at the southernmost tip of the state in Baldwin County.

Alabama has some of THE BEST FOOD IN THE WORLD because of our rich diversity of cultures. On one bountiful sideboard you can find bowls of British vegetables, French sauces from Mobile and Demopolis, native African okra and collards, German beer and sauerkraut from Cullman, and your dessert should be Chilton County, Scandinavian peach cobbler with another dish of Chilton County peach pie topped with a generous dollop of Chilton County peach ice cream. “Persikorna ar de basta, Y’ALL.”

Here are other positive and pleasurable PLANTS + PEOPLE things to explore in the middle of the state on the 67-County Alabama Garden Party, including one of our gifted cook Laurie Johnson’s favorite recipes in this entire series, Chilton County Peach Bruschetta:

*DURBIN FARMS MARKET- 2130 Seventh St. S, Clanton, AL 35045; also ask about their U-Pick farm.

*CHILTON COUNTY FARMSTANDS- Charles Bean (Thorsby), Harrison Fruit Farm (Maplesville), JJ’s Produce (Maplesville), Jimmie Harrison (Maplesville), Lawley’s Fruit Stand (Maplesville), Mack Patterson (Clanton), McGraw Farms (Maplesville), Pierce Farms (Clanton), Todd’s Produce (Clanton)

*PETALS FROM THE PAST- Master Gardener groups across the state make day trips to this nursery for heirloom roses, berry bushes and plant lectures; 16304 County Road 29, Maplesville, AL 35085, 205-646-0069; the owner is the friendly, knowledgeable Jason Powell.

*CHILTON COUNTY U-PICK FARMS- Bentley Farms, Sunshine Farms, Andrews U-Pick-It Fruits and Vegetables Farm, Culp Fruits, Raymond Cooedy Farms, Rocky Top Peach Farm (Maplesville)

*CHILTON COUNTY BLUEBERRIES- Roland and Elizabeth Miller, 9502 County Road 15, Clanton, AL 35045, 205-755-3681

*CHILTON COUNTY BLACKBERRIES- Weeks Blackberry Farm, 314 County Road 114, Randolph, AL, 205-688-2805

*CHILTON COUNTY PLANTS ADVICE/EDUCATION- Alabama Cooperative Extension System local office at 504 First Ave. N, Clanton, AL 35045, 205-280-6268

*PLANTING AN IDEA- What if there were an actual garden party created by several great cooks across the state? This could be like a “moveable feast” where you enjoy dishes in different locations, or my vote would be to come together in the middle of Alabama and “Meet at the Peach.” Food heritage over the last 200 years, at least, would involve tastes from the Scandinavian settlers of Chilton County, the French settlers of Mobile, the Native Alabamians perhaps from Moundville in Hale County, or the Poarch Indians of Escambia County, and those foods of African origin and so on. PARTY ON, ALABAMA!

Y’ALL COME to Chilton County on your 67-County Alabama Garden Party tour where everything is just peachy!

Chilton County Fresh Peach Bruschetta with a Southern Peach Julep (One large peach makes 5 bruschetta slices and 2 juleps – multiply as needed.)

While not published until the fall, this recipe was developed and devoured in the heart of Chilton County peach season, when the freshest peaches are eagerly anticipated by Alabamians.  Simple, yet elegant, this easy appetizer marries fresh peach flesh with creamy Alabama goat cheese, fresh mint, a hint of hot jalapeno and a honey balsamic drizzle.  The accompanying Southern Peach Julep is a variant of the standard and “makes” the cocktail hour at any proper (or improper) garden party!

Ingredients for both bruschetta and julep:

  • French bread baguette sliced into half-inch slices, as many pieces as you want
  • Butter
  • Goat cheese, softened to spreading consistency (herb or garlic flavored)
  • 1 ripe peach for each of the 5 slices of bruschetta and 2 juleps – multiply as needed
  •  A bunch of fresh mint leaves – both for the bruschetta and the julep
  • Thinly sliced fresh jalapeno (seeds removed)
  • Local honey (jalapeno-infused if you can get it) mixed with balsamic vinegar (about a 3:1 honey to balsamic ratio)
  • For the julep – in addition to the peach and mint – you need your choice of whiskey, peach schnapps, a squeeze of lime juice, simple syrup (1 cup sugar dissolved in 1 cup water) or honey

Instructions for bruschetta:

  1. Rub butter stick on both sides of baguette slices.  Rub a bit more butter onto the surface of a hot grill pan and grill the bread slices until lightly toasted on each side (~ a minute per side). Place onto a serving plate and spread each with softened goat cheese.
  2. Slice one half of a peach (with peel on) into 5 slices (one per piece of bruschetta). Rub the grill pan with a little more butter and grill the peach slices on each side lightly.
  3. Place two mint leaves on each slice or the cheese-topped bread, top with a grilled peach slice, a sliver of jalapeno and drizzle with a little honey/balsamic mixture.  Bruschetta DONE so fast!

Instructions for Southern Peach Julep

  1. Using the other peach half – prep two slices for garnish with peel still on.  Peel the other part of the peach and mash into a puree with a fork or other suitable mashing instrument.
  2. Chop ~ 4 mint leaves into the peach mash and muddle/mash/puree again.
  3. In a cocktail shaker, mix puree with 4 jiggers of whiskey, 2 jiggers of peach schnapps, lime juice, 1/2 jigger of simple syrup or honey.  Shake, then add some crushed ice and shake again.
  4. Strain drinks into half ice-filled julep cups or glasses, garnish with a peach slice and a mint leaf and enjoy your Southern Garden Party cocktail hour!

 

Also, check out Alabama Bicentennial: 200 ways to save Alabama for the next 200 years.

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Ben South