by Ray Linville
Communities that spread over a multi-county area often unite each year for a common celebration. For the N.C. peach community, that event occurs on the third Saturday in July in Candor, a small town in Montgomery County that brings everyone in the peach-growing Sandhills region together. Although Candor is the home of fewer than 900 residents, it hosts the N.C. Peach Festival because the peach is so important to its identity and its way of life.
Peaches are clearly the star attraction. Boxes, baskets, and bags of freshly picked fruit are sold on sides of streets, from the back of trucks, and at stands of service organizations and neighboring growers. A common sight is a heavy box of peaches being carried by a person navigating through the throngs of streetgoers.
Hundreds of spectators are drawn to the start of the festival by the long parade that lasts almost an hour. The parade proceeds southward down the town’s Main Street (old U.S. 220). Imagine fire trucks, rescue vehicles, tow trucks, vintage cars, and tractors – all showing pride in growing peaches or supporting those who do. After the motorized brigade come horse-pulled wagons and horses with individual riders. Many in the parade throw candy to the children (and adults) who line the street. For some the chance to grab sweet treats is better than Halloween.
As the parade ends, thoughts turn to lunch, and the parade watchers head to Fitzgerald Park. On their way they pass vendors who line both sides of several streets and sell everything you want with peach as an ingredient – peach turnovers, peach-flavored beer, sweet peach BBQ, peach ice cream, and more: Everything but peach on a stick.
A variety of food (chicken, fish, snacks) is available, but the longest line belongs to an ice cream vendor. One size – a single cup with a huge scoop – serves all. Having only one size keeps the line moving, although it consistently has dozens of customers waiting to be served. No other vendor rings sales so fast – perhaps a cup of ice cream is sold as quickly as every three seconds.
The festival has something for every age group. The young ones enjoy a huge grassy play area in Fitzgerald Park with bounce houses, climbing towers, a tot lot, and other activities. Adults stroll among the arts and crafts displays, food tents, and vendor booths. Grandparents sit in a covered shelter and listen to beach music by the Sand Band, a favorite that has played annually for several years, and wait for the Peach Queen to make her appearance.
On the outskirts of Candor the orchards maintain a rapid pace of selling their fruit – at the Candor farmers market or at roadside stands — to out-of-towners who pass through. Families who live in the western and central areas of the state always stop for fresh peaches – and peach ice cream – when they travel to the beaches and coastal areas. One young couple from Durham stops on their annual trips to the beach, and they take a picture of their daughter by their favorite orchard’s sign – proof of her increasing height each year with a reminder of the timeless, unchanging quality of delicious peaches.
In town, however, everyone pauses for a well-deserved break. The festival is a wonderful mix of ages, ethnicities, colors, and languages. Farmers, students, business people, and family members enjoy each other’s company and celebrate what boosts this area’s economy and gives work to many — the peach.
Although a fresh peach by itself can’t be beat, nothing makes a pie better than peaches from the N.C. Sandhills. My family recipe, about 90 years old handled down by a favorite aunt (who called it a pie but others may call it a cobbler), is always a winner.
Peach Pie – A Family Tradition
1 cup sugar
1 cup flour
1 cup milk
1 stick butter
3 teaspoons baking powder
1 quart of sliced peaches (sweetened to taste with a little extra sugar)
Directions: Melt butter in deep baking pan. Pour on top of it a batter made with the sugar, flour, milk, and baking power. Have ready sliced peaches heated (with extra sugar). Pour hot fruit on top of batter. Bake in oven at 370 degrees for 25 minutes (or until done).
Ray Linville is an associate professor of English and humanities at Sandhills Community College in Pinehurst, NC, and serves on the board of the N.C. Folklore Society. Read more about Ray’s ramblings at his blog: Sights, Sounds and Tastes of the American South.