Having lived in the Upper Midwest most of my life, I’m used to short summers and finding local rhubarb, berries, sour cherries (if you are very lucky), ground cherries, melons, and lots and lots of apples at the farmers markets.
These are all things I didn’t think about much, until we moved to Missouri. Although we’re not exactly in the south, we’re still farther south than we’ve ever lived before. The summers here are insanely hot and the winters are delightfully mild. You can still find most of these fruits at the farmers markets in St. Louis, but you can also find peaches.
Crates of ripening peaches arrive at the supermarkets at the beginning of each summer. The smell fills me with delight. Many of our grocery stores sell peaches from Eckert’s Farms located in nearby Belleville and Grafton, Illinois.
When I received an invitation to attend a dinner at Eckert’s peach orchard, prepared by my friends Sherrie (With Food & Love) and Julia (My Lavender Blues), I RSVP’d. I couldn’t think of a better way to spend one of my last evenings in St. Louis than eating dinner in an orchard with friends.
The event started with a tour of the facility. Eckert’s President and V.P. Chris and Angie showed us where their team packs and stores peaches.
I was surprised to learn that Eckert’s is the largest peach and blackberry producer in Illinois. Eckert’s also grows veggies like sweet corn, green beans, and onions, and fruits including apples and strawberries. In the winter you can choose your own Christmas tree, and, in the fall, your own pumpkins.
The pick-your-own theme runs strong here. Anything Eckert’s grows, you can pretty much pick your own, including flowers! Eckert’s sells much of the produce by the pound, but visitors can also purchase a big box for $20 and fill it with whatever they pick from the fields.
People who aren’t keen on picking their own produce can buy it all in the large general store along with gifts, meats, cheeses, and baked goods. Angie added that their giant oven bakes 100 pies at a time and two full-time butchers break down local cows.
We reached the dinner table by bumpy wagon ride.
As we passed fields of sweet corn, Chris asked if we’d ever tasted sweet corn fresh from the field. Many of us shook our heads, “no.”
When we reached the peach trees, we hopped off again.
The peach I reached for easily separated from the tree. Peaches in stores are picked when they are firm so that they have time to ripen. This one felt soft to the touch. It tasted like the essence of a thousand peaches and dribbled juice. We polished them off and tossed the pits back into the grove.
“Our kids think everyone’s punishment is to go out in the golf cart and pick peaches for dinner,” Chris and Angie joked as the wagon neared their backyard.
The dinner table was set.
If there’s anyone who could make me excited about vegetarian food, it’s Sherrie. Actually, she’s the only person that really has. I’ve typically thought of myself as a haughty omnivore. Sherrie’s food has changed me. I was so excited about all of the dishes I ate at her last pop-up, that I prepared some of her recipes the next week. Delicious. Jake loved them too, especially her roasted broccoli and crispy tofu bowls with spicy orange glaze.
Whiskey and Soba recaps her last pop-up.
This meal was no exception. An herb infused cocktail, chilled golden tomato soup with sweet corn and cucumber relish, peach-green tomato salad, sweet polenta, goat cheese cheesecake, all sourced from Eckert’s or as locally as possible.
Julia made some tasty short ribs, too.
The sun set over the orchard hill and lightning bugs flickered. I treasured this meal with new friends. For this Minnesota girl, the experience of picking my own peach felt very special.
There’s still time to pick your own peaches this summer. Eckert’s provides weekly crop updates along with pricing. And this fall, Eckert’s Belleville farm is hosting a Wine & Apples in the Orchard on September 15th. You can find more information about events and ticket sales here.
Thank you Eckerts Farms & ALIVE for sponsoring this post. My family also thanks you for the bag of peaches I brought with me to Minnesota. I’m making everyone eat at least one per day.