[See the previous post for more on Alabama fruit and fruit growers.] Peaches are not native to America, though they arrived so early that some of the earliest writers thought them so. Spanish explorers are credited with introducing the peach, as it was documented growing commonly in Mexico 50 years after Cortez arrived and the Spanish are said to have grown it in St. Augustine, Florida by 1565. It was spread in part by the Jesuit and Franciscan fathers.
There are many accounts of the “Indian Peach”, and we will examine a few.
“The Indian Peach.—John Lawson who was in this country between 1700 and 1708, says in his New Voyage to Carolina (London, 1709), a propos of the peach: ‘I want to be satisfy’d about one sort of this Fruit, which the Indians claim as their own, and affirm they had it growing amongst them before any Europeans came to America. The Fruit I will describe as exactly as I can. The tree grows very large, most commonly as big as a handsome Apple-tree; the Flowers are of a reddish murrey Colour; the Fruit is rather more downy than the yellow Peach, and commonly very large and soft, being very full of Juice. They part very freely from the Stone, and the Stone is much thicker than all the other Peach Stones we have, which seems to me that it is a Spontaneous Fruit of America; yet in those Parts of America that we inhabit, I never could hear that any Peach-Trees were ever found growing in the Woods; neither have the foreign Indians that live remote from the English any other sort. And those living amongst us have a hundred of this sort for one of the other; they are a hardy Fruit, and are seldom damaged by the North-East Blasts, as others are. Of this sort we make Vinegar; wherefore we call them Vinegar-Peaches, and sometimes Indian peaches”.
Le Page Du Pratz wrote in 1758 that the natives had peaches and figs when the French settled in Louisiana in 1698. He thought they’d gotten them from the English in Carolina, but it is more commonly accepted that they came from the Spanish in Mexico or Florida.
Some years afterward, John Bartram said the peach and plum orchards still stood and bore fruit when he traveled through the Cherokee town, Sticoe, about the Savannah River [Georgia], and he found peaches growing near the ruins of a French town near Mobile, AL.
Du Pratz said, “Our colonists [French] plant the peach stones about the end of February, and suffer the trees to grow exposed to all weathers. In the third year they will gather from one tree at least two hundred peaches, and double that number for six or seven years more, when the tree dies irrecoverably. As new trees are so easily produced, the loss of the old ones is not the least regretted.”
John Lawson also noted that trees grew from stones and bore in three years. “Eating peaches in our orchards makes them come up so thick from the kernel, that we are forced to take a great deal of care to weed them out, otherwise they make our land a wilderness of peach trees. They generally bear so full that they break [a] great part of their limbs down.”
The Indian Peach was introduced into South Carolina from the Indians in Georgia and in 1806, it was, “looked upon a great rarity in South-Carolina, where it has just began to be cultivated”. It was described as having a deep brown skin when ripe, the flesh underneath the skin yellow, and beet red toward the stone.
The Indian Peach was somewhat of an anomaly in that old records say it could be grown true to form [at least for several generations] from seed while other peaches are grafted to get the desired result. It is ancient in origin by American standards although some nurseries still sell what they claim to be the Indian Blood Peach. How true these heirloom peaches may be to the original Indian Peach is not certain. Called by growers the Columbia peach, subsequent generations of the Indian were said to be growing inferior in quality when discussed in 1897 and it was noted that it was disappearing from the markets.
The “Genessee Farmer” said of it in 1833, “Thirty years ago when we [New York] had scarcely any other kind than the old Indian peach in the country, it was observed to come very true from the stone; and amongst the hundreds of trees produced in this way, we have not met with any distinguishable sub-variety.”
While I make no claim as to the authenticity of any such-named tree currently available on the market, perhaps those who are interested will be able to search heirloom fruit trees for the closest relative of the original Indian. Blissful Meals, THF.
Georgia State Horticultural Society. “Proceedings.” 1897. Augusta.
Hilton, William. “A Relation of a Discovery Lately Made on the Coasts of Florida”. 1664. Force Hist. Tracts.
Hedrick, U.P. “The Peaches of New York”. Albany. 1917.
Bartram, William. “Travels Through North and South Carolina, Georgia, East and West Florida”. 1791.
Kalm, Peter. “Travels Into North America”. 1771.
Schecut, John Linnaeus Edward Whitridge. “Flora Carolinaeensis”. 1806. Charleston.
“Genessee Farmer and Gardener’s Journal.” Vol. 3. Sept. 21, 1833.