Peaches and Georgia are synonymous. Most of us ride around with a peach pictured on the license plate of our car and carry quarters in our pocket inscribed with the outline of our state and a peach. We are the Peach State.
The same can be said for the Chitwood family of Franklin County, as locally their name is synonymous with peaches. Since 1979 peaches have been grown and sold at their orchard, located at 3300 New Franklin Church Road in Canon. Counting Emily (age 8), who enjoys selling peaches, there are four generations of Chitwoods involved in growing, tending the orchard, picking and selling peaches.
It all started when V.F. Chitwood, who passed away in 2017, planted peach trees in his backyard in the ‘60s and ‘70s and shared the peaches with friends and neighbors. When the old cotton field across the road from his home was put on the market in the mid-‘70s, V.F. bought it. For the first several years, he used the land for a golf driving range but then decided to turn it into a peach orchard, his son Scott says. V.F. planted his first peach trees on the land in 1977 and started selling peaches in 1979. The rest, as they say, is history.
Today Mrs. Chitwood Sr. is joined in running the orchard by her sons, Scott and Reed; by Scott’s son, Jason, and his daughter, Emily; by Curtis and his wife, Sara; and by Derek. These family members help with the maintenance of the orchard, with peach picking and with selling peaches from the stand that sits on the corner of the orchard.
For 40 years eager customers have come to the orchard early in the morning during the summer to purchase the succulent peaches. There are second- and third-generation customers lined up to buy.
The growing season is short – from mid-June to mid-August – but during that time bushels and bushels of several varieties of peaches are grown and offered for sale. The peaches are typically sold at their stand Monday through Saturday and occasionally at farmers markets in adjacent towns.
The Chitwood peach varieties are Red Haven, Windblow, July Prince, Bounty, Red Globe, Fiery Prince, Contender, Early August Prince, Elberta, Carolina Gold and Georgia Belle. Each variety has unique characteristics, according to Scott. The Windblow is good for freezing, Elberta is good for canning and peach pies, and Carolina Gold is considered the dessert peach, for it is very sweet. Carolina Gold peaches are a hardy peach that can withstand late spring freezes. Another late-season peach, Heirloom, is good for drying and is a favorite among cooks who like to keep old traditions alive.
While all varieties are popular and nutritious, it is the Georgia Belle peach which is held in highest regard by most peach aficionados. The Georgia Belle is slightly smaller, lighter in color and sweeter than the other varieties. However, Georgia Belles are delicate and bruise easily. Therefore, they don’t “travel well” and are more difficult to manage than the other varieties, Curtis says.
The Chitwood Orchard is and has always been a family venture. Each of the Chitwood men earns his living doing other things. Reed works in corporate Atlanta, Scott is a retired rural mail carrier, Curtis and Jason are teachers, and Derek is in the retail clothing business. Nonetheless, during peach season, all of these men, and often their wives, are in “all-hands-on-deck” mode to get the peaches picked, sorted and sold.
There are many ways to enjoy good Georgia peaches. Peaches can be picked off the tree and eaten just like an apple. On a hot Georgia summer day, eating a peach this way is refreshing because of the high-water content in a peach. There is just nothing much better than standing in the peach orchard eating a freshly picked peach, even if the juice runs down your chin!
Of course, most folks eat their fresh peaches at room temperature, peeled, sliced and in a bowl, often with some good ice cream, preferably homemade vanilla.
Most Southern women have delicious, often family, recipes for peach pies, peach cobbler or peach crisp. Served either warm or at room temperature with vanilla ice cream melting over them, any of these is a tasty treat! In addition, freshly churned peach ice cream is always a crowd-pleaser.
Don’t forget the iconic fried peach pie! These small individual fried treats are a summer mainstay for many in our state. Fortunately, the Varsity restaurants in Atlanta and Athens sell these year-round, and they are often available at fall festivals and fairs.
If you live within a comfortable distance of Chitwood Peach Orchard, drive through the beautiful countryside to the orchard. You will meet some very nice people and take home some delicious peaches. You can also follow the Chitwood family on their Facebook page.