texasmonthly.com: Why did you decide to go ahead with the peach story even though the crop had been damaged?
Suzy Banks: Have you ever heard the story of the peach that cried “wolf”? Well, last year, just a week or so before the peach stories were due, we got the call from the orchardists that a late freeze had wiped them out. We canned the story (pun intended), deciding to wait until the crop was better the next year (this year). About a week before the magazine went to press the orchardists called with great news: The peach crop wouldn’t be phenomenal, but there would certainly be plenty of peaches at the farm stands and at pick-your-own orchards. This year, once again just a week before the stories were due, BAM!—big freeze. All is lost, said the experts and the orchardists. “Yeah, sure,” we thought. Well, this year the naysayers were right.
texasmonthly.com: How long have you been working on this story?
SB: I started flirting with the demon fruit in spring of 2001. I spent time with a couple of growers in Fredericksburg and attended the 2001 Stonewall Peach Jamboree, all with the intention of contributing to a big peach package the next spring. I was to write a short article about the Jamboree itself too. This year, only a bit of that article made it into my piece. But now, for your amusement, I would like to describe the Jamboree parade.
On the third weekend of June, for more than forty years, the citizens of Stonewall have paid tribute to the blushing fruit with the Peach Jamboree. I joined them on a hot Saturday morning last year, when the festival began in earnest with a ritual parade that meanders down the town’s narrow streets to the festival grounds. The other lookers-on and I were entertained by a quaint procession of farm implements, Peach Queen candidates in skintight gowns perched on truck hoods, and floats covered in wads of tissue paper or spangles, like the one sponsored by the Lampasas Spring Ho Festival. A drill team from the nearby community of Sunrise Beach, whose members were all on the sunset-side of sixty, performed a routine (of sorts) with folded lawn chairs. They were followed by those ubiquitous Shriners stuffed in tiny cars. If attentions wandered, some float rider renewed our enthusiasm with a well-tossed handful of bubble gum, peppermints, or even camouflage pencils (for those hunter-accountants, I assume). Horseback riders, as is proper, brought up the rear.
texasmonthly.com: Do you like peaches? If so, why? If not, why not?
SB: Right now, I’m not happy with peaches, at least as far as their behavior goes. But that doesn’t mean I won’t eat the first big, juicy one I see. It’s kind of like that joke: I’m not a vegetarian because I love animals. I’m a vegetarian because I hate vegetables. I eat peaches with gusto now.
texasmonthly.com: What was the most difficult aspect to working on this story?
SB: The mean, @#$% weather.
texasmonthly.com: What was the most interesting thing you learned while working on this story?
SB: That the soft fuzz on peaches is terribly itchy when it’s no longer on the peach.
texasmonthly.com: Will we be able to buy Texas peaches at the supermarket?
SB: I don’t know. There were a few orchards—one up by the Red River and one southeast of San Antonio—that were spared from the freeze. So there will be some Texas peaches, but I don’t know if they’ll make it all the way to the store.
texasmonthly.com: What kind of research did you do for this story?
SB: Besides spending time at the jamboree and with orchardists, I also spent a lovely afternoon at the Center for American History at the University of Texas at Austin looking over old newspaper clippings and periodical articles about Texas peaches.
texasmonthly.com: Do you think the peach industry will recover? Why or why not?
SB: Oh, sure, it will recover. There is a devastating crop loss every six or seven years according to the Texas Cooperative Extension, due either to not enough chilling hours or ironically, a few days of too much chilling late in the season.
texasmonthly.com: In your opinion, where can you find the best Texas peaches?
SB: Uh . . . Georgia?
texasmonthly.com: Do you have plans to work on another “crop” story? If so, what? If not, why not?
SB: Maybe I’m a masochist, but I’d love to tackle the wild world of Texas rice someday. Did you know the Prince of Liechtenstein is a big player in the rice business of Texas?