Peaches

From Thomas Jefferson Encyclopedia

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-In December 1794, Virginia's self-proclaimed "most ardent farmer in the state" planted 1,157 '''peach'''<ref>This article is based on Monticello Newsletter, Winter 1991.</ref> trees. This marked the beginning of [[Thomas Jefferson|Thomas Jefferson's]] plan to overhaul the appearance of his estate by organizing four adjoining farms into regular fields of forty acres each. 
-The peach trees would serve as fence lines, a natural way to divide the land and simultaneously produce a superabundance of fruit. Peaches thrived at Monticello. Writing to his granddaughter in 1815, Jefferson reveled in the harvest saying "we abound in the luxury of the peach." This was true despite insidious pests like the peach tree borer and the curculio, which "by depositing its egg in the young plums, apricots, nectarines, and peaches renders them gummy and good for nothing."+Just as the role of the apple reflected the diversity and melting-pot culture of early American life, so was the '''peach'''<ref>This article is based on Peter Hatch, [http://www.twinleaf.org/articles/peach.html Twinleaf,] January 1998.</ref> an early image for the bounty and luxury of the New World's natural productions. By the beginning of the eighteenth century peach trees had naturalized so abundantly throughout the southeastern and mid-Atlantic colonies that John Lawson said they grew as luxuriantly as weeds: "we are forced to take a great deal of Care to weed them out, otherwise they make our Land a Wilderness of Peach-Trees." [[Thomas Jefferson]] also regarded the peach as a fancy delicacy for the table and, if one measures his appreciation of a fruit by the frequency with which it was planted, or by the number of varieties in his collection, the peach would easily be considered his favorite fruit tree. While peach varieties were seldom mentioned in eighteenth-century Virginia literature, and in fact, George Washington only noted two specific varieties for his Mount Vernon orchard, Jefferson cultivated over thirty-eight in his South Orchard alone. The peach was the queen bee, the workhorse of tree fruits at Monticello; a luxury because of its abundance, its usefulness, but also, simply, because Thomas Jefferson liked peaches.
-The prolific peach was enjoyed for both its fresh fruit and its spirited+Although peaches were commonly grown in Old World gardens and orchards, spreading from Asia on the tides of civilization, most European explorers mistakenly thought the peach was an indigenous American product. From Pennsylvania south, peach trees merged into the surrounding vegetation so completely that the earliest natural historians, even John Bartram, America's first great botanist, assumed the peach was a native tree. In fact, the peach was introduced either by the Spanish settlers in St. Augustine, Florida in 1565 or by the French to an isolated Gulf of Mexico settlement in 1562. It was probably grown in Mexico at an even earlier date. Native American peach culture migrated north with the travels of Jesuit and Franciscan missionaries and with the Native Americans themselves. At the same time, the cultivated trees escaped into the landscape. William Penn observed wild, Indian peaches as far north as Philadelphia in 1683, and a few years later John Banister wrote that, in Virginia, "Peaches and Nectarines I believe to be Spontaneous ... for the Indians have, and ever had greater variety, and finer sorts of them than we ..." Luigi Castiglioni noted in 1787 that, "Peach trees are so abundant in Virginia that often, upon cutting away a pine wood ... they cover the whole terrain." It seems odd that today there is no place where peach trees dominate "the whole terrain" in Virginia, although they are reported as relatively uncommon in about half of its counties.
-by-product "mobby," a peach brandy+
-common in Virginia. Jefferson+
-planted as many as 38 varieties+
-the South Orchard, including the+
-Oldmixon Cling, Monis' Red Rareripe,+
-and Heath Cling. "I am+
-endeavoring to make a collection of+
-the choicest kinds of peaches for+
-Monticello," Jefferson wrote in+
-1807, affirming his search for a spectrum+
-of superlative varieties.+
-Many of Jefferson's peaches were+Aside from the trees cultivated by Native Americans and the naturalized Indian peaches, the European settlers in Virginia planted the fruit in enormous quantities, ultimately defining a distinctive American form of fruit growing quite different from the European tradition. Peaches were noted by John Smith in Jamestown as early as 1629, and in 1676 Thomas Glover said, "Here [in Virginia] are likewise great Peach-Orchards, which bear such an infinite quantity of Peaches, that at some Plantations they beat down to the Hoggs fourty bushels in a year." Robert Beverley also described the "luxury of the peach" in early Virginia orchards: " ... some good Husbands plant great Orchards of [peaches], purposely for their Hogs; and others make a Drink of them, which they call Mobby, and either drink it as Cider, or Distill it off for Brandy." Although Jefferson recorded the production of mobby in 1782 and 1785, it is difficult to determine whether he fermented it further into brandy.
-European in origin, including several+ 
-choice [[Italian Influence in the Orchard | Italian varieties]] like the+Intensive peach culture spread as far north as Pennsylvania, where Peter Kalm observed, "every countryman had an orchard full of peach trees which were covered with such quantities of fruit that we could scarcely walk in the orchard without treading upon the peaches that had fallen off, many of which were left on the ground." The peach was also the standard Southern commodity, as William White, from Athens, Georgia, attested as late as 1859: "Indeed, the peach is the favorite, and in many instances, the only fruit tree cultivated by our planters."
-Alberges, Apple, and Vaga Loggia.+ 
-[[Philip Mazzei]], an Italian agriculturist-statesman,+Jefferson found many uses for the peach besides mobby or as a dessert fruit. Mary Randolph's [http://search.store.yahoo.com/cgi-bin/nsearch?catalog=monticellostore&query=virginia+housewife The Virginia Housewife] contains six recipes for preparing peaches, including ice cream and peach preserves. "Peach chips" were sliced peaches, boiled, sugared, and sun-dried. Jefferson noted in a letter to his granddaughter Martha in 1815 that Cate, one of the Monticello slaves, "is busy drying peaches for you."
-supplied Jefferson with+ 
-several new varieties and even+When Jefferson wrote his practical-minded son-in-law, Thomas Mann Randolph, in 1792, he described a unique use for the peach tree as fire wood: " ... 5. acres of peach trees at 21. feet apart will furnish dead wood enough to supply a fireplace through the winter, & may be kept up at the trouble of only planting about 70. peach stones a year."
-traveled to Virginia, temporarily+ 
-settling on a neighboring tract of+The tree's aggressive growth habit and its ornamental qualities make the peach a fine candidate for a living fence. In 1794 Jefferson recorded the planting of nearly 900 peach trees as "dividing lines" between his agricultural fields both at Monticello and at Lego, an adjacent plantation across the Rivanna River. The Duke de la Rouchefoucauld-Liancourt observed these trees, a "single row" around the fields, in 1796.
-land near Monticello. As neighbors,+ 
-the two men shared a love of agriculture+The peach is also a handsome ornamental tree with its dark, rich foliage and striking display of pink or white flowers. Jefferson noted the flowering of peaches at Monticello twelve times in his Garden Book and other memoranda, and he also planted the double flowering peach, which is sterile and therefore a pure ornamental, in a shrubbery immediately around the house at Monticello in 1805.
-and cultivated a friendship+ 
-that would last over 40 years.+"I am endeavoring to make a collection of the choicest kinds of peaches for Monticello"
-One of Mazzei's contributions to+ 
-Jefferson's collection was the "Poppe+--Jefferson to Richard Threlkeld, March 26, 1807.
-di Venere" or Breast of Venus peach.+ 
-Jefferson's documentation in his ''Garden+Jefferson's collection of peaches was an extraordinary assemblage of Old and New World varietes, early and late producers, freestones and clingstones. He received young, budded trees from the William Prince Nursery in New York and the Thomas Main and Alexander Hepburn nurseries in Washington; he obtained peach stones from friends like George Mason, Timothy Matlack, Isaac Coles, James Taylor, and William Meriwether. He was sent a shipment of choice Italian varieties by Philip Mazzei. He received local types from his own Monticello workman, such as James Balyal, who worked in the vegetable garden. Many of the Mazzei varieties were probably unique introductions into American gardens, including the Vaga Loggia, Maddalena, and the Apple peach. There were many famous American varieties in the Monticello collection as well, among them the Heath Cling, America's first named peach, the Oldmixon Cling, Morris' Red Rareripe, and the Indian Blood Cling. Nearly half of the thirty-eight varieties grown by Jefferson at Monticello were described in the pomological literature -- a tribute to the depth of his collection and the sincerity of his interest in fine fruit.
-Book'' notes "4. stones of the+
-poppe de Venere planted in the upper+
-row of the Nursery" in 1802. These peach stones were courtesy of Mazzei, who claimed his Italian version was far superior in size to the French "Teton de Venere." Described by early pomologists as having a "melting" and "rich" taste, the fruit was large and straw-colored with a bright red marbled blush on the exposed side.+
Today, Monticello's orchards are planted with 45 nineteenth-century varieties. Today, Monticello's orchards are planted with 45 nineteenth-century varieties.

Revision as of 13:49, 18 July 2007

Just as the role of the apple reflected the diversity and melting-pot culture of early American life, so was the peach[1] an early image for the bounty and luxury of the New World's natural productions. By the beginning of the eighteenth century peach trees had naturalized so abundantly throughout the southeastern and mid-Atlantic colonies that John Lawson said they grew as luxuriantly as weeds: "we are forced to take a great deal of Care to weed them out, otherwise they make our Land a Wilderness of Peach-Trees." Thomas Jefferson also regarded the peach as a fancy delicacy for the table and, if one measures his appreciation of a fruit by the frequency with which it was planted, or by the number of varieties in his collection, the peach would easily be considered his favorite fruit tree. While peach varieties were seldom mentioned in eighteenth-century Virginia literature, and in fact, George Washington only noted two specific varieties for his Mount Vernon orchard, Jefferson cultivated over thirty-eight in his South Orchard alone. The peach was the queen bee, the workhorse of tree fruits at Monticello; a luxury because of its abundance, its usefulness, but also, simply, because Thomas Jefferson liked peaches.

Although peaches were commonly grown in Old World gardens and orchards, spreading from Asia on the tides of civilization, most European explorers mistakenly thought the peach was an indigenous American product. From Pennsylvania south, peach trees merged into the surrounding vegetation so completely that the earliest natural historians, even John Bartram, America's first great botanist, assumed the peach was a native tree. In fact, the peach was introduced either by the Spanish settlers in St. Augustine, Florida in 1565 or by the French to an isolated Gulf of Mexico settlement in 1562. It was probably grown in Mexico at an even earlier date. Native American peach culture migrated north with the travels of Jesuit and Franciscan missionaries and with the Native Americans themselves. At the same time, the cultivated trees escaped into the landscape. William Penn observed wild, Indian peaches as far north as Philadelphia in 1683, and a few years later John Banister wrote that, in Virginia, "Peaches and Nectarines I believe to be Spontaneous ... for the Indians have, and ever had greater variety, and finer sorts of them than we ..." Luigi Castiglioni noted in 1787 that, "Peach trees are so abundant in Virginia that often, upon cutting away a pine wood ... they cover the whole terrain." It seems odd that today there is no place where peach trees dominate "the whole terrain" in Virginia, although they are reported as relatively uncommon in about half of its counties.

Aside from the trees cultivated by Native Americans and the naturalized Indian peaches, the European settlers in Virginia planted the fruit in enormous quantities, ultimately defining a distinctive American form of fruit growing quite different from the European tradition. Peaches were noted by John Smith in Jamestown as early as 1629, and in 1676 Thomas Glover said, "Here [in Virginia] are likewise great Peach-Orchards, which bear such an infinite quantity of Peaches, that at some Plantations they beat down to the Hoggs fourty bushels in a year." Robert Beverley also described the "luxury of the peach" in early Virginia orchards: " ... some good Husbands plant great Orchards of [peaches], purposely for their Hogs; and others make a Drink of them, which they call Mobby, and either drink it as Cider, or Distill it off for Brandy." Although Jefferson recorded the production of mobby in 1782 and 1785, it is difficult to determine whether he fermented it further into brandy.

Intensive peach culture spread as far north as Pennsylvania, where Peter Kalm observed, "every countryman had an orchard full of peach trees which were covered with such quantities of fruit that we could scarcely walk in the orchard without treading upon the peaches that had fallen off, many of which were left on the ground." The peach was also the standard Southern commodity, as William White, from Athens, Georgia, attested as late as 1859: "Indeed, the peach is the favorite, and in many instances, the only fruit tree cultivated by our planters."

Jefferson found many uses for the peach besides mobby or as a dessert fruit. Mary Randolph's The Virginia Housewife contains six recipes for preparing peaches, including ice cream and peach preserves. "Peach chips" were sliced peaches, boiled, sugared, and sun-dried. Jefferson noted in a letter to his granddaughter Martha in 1815 that Cate, one of the Monticello slaves, "is busy drying peaches for you."

When Jefferson wrote his practical-minded son-in-law, Thomas Mann Randolph, in 1792, he described a unique use for the peach tree as fire wood: " ... 5. acres of peach trees at 21. feet apart will furnish dead wood enough to supply a fireplace through the winter, & may be kept up at the trouble of only planting about 70. peach stones a year."

The tree's aggressive growth habit and its ornamental qualities make the peach a fine candidate for a living fence. In 1794 Jefferson recorded the planting of nearly 900 peach trees as "dividing lines" between his agricultural fields both at Monticello and at Lego, an adjacent plantation across the Rivanna River. The Duke de la Rouchefoucauld-Liancourt observed these trees, a "single row" around the fields, in 1796.

The peach is also a handsome ornamental tree with its dark, rich foliage and striking display of pink or white flowers. Jefferson noted the flowering of peaches at Monticello twelve times in his Garden Book and other memoranda, and he also planted the double flowering peach, which is sterile and therefore a pure ornamental, in a shrubbery immediately around the house at Monticello in 1805.

"I am endeavoring to make a collection of the choicest kinds of peaches for Monticello"

--Jefferson to Richard Threlkeld, March 26, 1807.

Jefferson's collection of peaches was an extraordinary assemblage of Old and New World varietes, early and late producers, freestones and clingstones. He received young, budded trees from the William Prince Nursery in New York and the Thomas Main and Alexander Hepburn nurseries in Washington; he obtained peach stones from friends like George Mason, Timothy Matlack, Isaac Coles, James Taylor, and William Meriwether. He was sent a shipment of choice Italian varieties by Philip Mazzei. He received local types from his own Monticello workman, such as James Balyal, who worked in the vegetable garden. Many of the Mazzei varieties were probably unique introductions into American gardens, including the Vaga Loggia, Maddalena, and the Apple peach. There were many famous American varieties in the Monticello collection as well, among them the Heath Cling, America's first named peach, the Oldmixon Cling, Morris' Red Rareripe, and the Indian Blood Cling. Nearly half of the thirty-eight varieties grown by Jefferson at Monticello were described in the pomological literature -- a tribute to the depth of his collection and the sincerity of his interest in fine fruit.

Today, Monticello's orchards are planted with 45 nineteenth-century varieties.

Footnotes

  1. This article is based on Peter Hatch, Twinleaf, January 1998.

Further Sources