I’m guessing the peaches in Stratford have to be pretty darn good to bring a couple thousand people out in the 100-plus degree heat this past Saturday, including me.
Now, to be honest, I have never heard of the town of Stratford or their abiding love of peaches, but attending a whole festival dedicated to the fuzzy-faced fruit sounded like quite the good time, to me at least. Located about 20 miles east of Pauls Valley, the backwoods burg of Stratford is very much the quintessential one-horse town—make that one-fruit town—with everything from peach stands to peach orchards dotted on down the road.
Parking about a good mile from the festival, the throngs of citizens walking back from the festival like human pack-mules, carrying bags and boxes filled with ripe peaches, made my own mouth water and my vertebrae ache as a small pool of sweat began to form in the center of my back. Walking down the dirt road, past the mobile homes and barking dogs, peach pits littered every step along the way.
Upon reaching the Festival, you’re first met with rows of local orchards and their peach and peach-based goods, especially jams, jellies and sugar-free spreads. One spunky fruit-dealer was selling fresh peaches and cream, a truly decadent dessert in this heat, but a very tempestuous treat nevertheless; I closed my eyes in near-orgiastic relief as the cold cream and colder peaches slid down my overheated neck.
The National Guard was hosting a corn-hole game—sounds reasonable enough—as, in the durable shed nearby, a juggler was spinning plumes of fire in the air before balancing a ladder on his chin. The scene between the tents was very much like a State Fair outing, with plenty of sweat-stained shirts huddled together under any available shade, all seeking immediate coolness, while others braved the scorching Sun to stand in lines for homemade peach ice cream and, as I was very much craving, homemade peach iced tea.
They quickly sold out of the tea, natch.
Earlier that morning was the popular peach bake-off competition, featuring sweet recipes that had, per the rules, at least one peach somewhere in them. In this case, I sampled a small portion of peach cobbler and a smaller portion of a peach cake for about dollar each, both apparently the first and third place winners of the contest.
But, as much tasty fun as the day had been, sometimes you’ve got to take the salt with sugar; in this case, it was the rural inevitability of Confederate flags and other strictly pro-American merchandise like knives, bumper stickers and other modern combat tools, with perhaps the kitschiest order of the day being angel figurines posed next to a military man, one who I believe is reeling with absolute pride from his first kill.
With the afternoon heat bringing out an armored ambulance-tank hybrid rolling right by, I figured it was about time to make the long trek back to the grass-field parking lot, but not before I buy one single, solitary peach to snack on the way home. You’d think this would be an easy thing to do at a peach festival, but when I asked the main fruit producers about it, I was typically given a rude reply and sent on my peach-less way.
Heading down the dusty dirt-road, I spotted an old man in a truck, selling peaches to the few odd congregants that stopped by; I asked him if I could buy a peach for a buck, and, without even thinking twice, he gave me two, both on the house. Walking to the car, down that long stretch of hot road, I can tell you that they were the sweetest darn peaches that I’ve ever had.