Peaches

From Thomas Jefferson Encyclopedia

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In December 1794, Virgnia's self-proclaimed "most ardent farmer in the state" planted 1,157 peach trees. This marked the beginning of 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 revelled 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, nectxines, and peaches renders them gummy and good for nothing."

The prolific peach was enjoyed for both its fresh fruit and its spirited 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 European in origin, including several choice Italian varieties like the Alberges, Apple, and Vaga Loggia. Philip Mazzei, an Italian agriculturist-statesman, supplied Jefferson with several new varieties and even traveled to Virginia, temporarily settling on a neighboring tract of land near Monticello. As neighbors, the two men shared a love of agrculture and cultivated a friendship that would last over 40 years. One of Mazzei's contributions to Jefferson's collection was the "Poppe di Venere" or Breast of Venus peach. Jefferson's documentation in his Garden 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-clored with a bright red marbled blush on the exposed side.

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

This article is based: Monticello Newsletter, Winter 1991.