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Bulloch History with Roger Allen: The long and juicy history of Georgia's famous peaches
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Roger Allen - photo by Special

    (Note: The following is part of a series of articles looking at the history and evolution of agriculture in Georgia and Bulloch County.)

    The peach originated in China and has been cultivated since at least 1000 B.C. The peach tree is considered to be the tree of life, and peaches are symbols of immortality and unity.
    Peaches, or species Prunus persicus, are a fruit tree of the Prunoidae subfamily of the Rosacea (or rose) family, which includes almost all stone-fruits (most notably nectarines, peaches and prunes).
    The Romans planted peaches throughout their empire. Europeans brought the fruit to their new colonies: Spaniards to South America, the French to Louisiana and the English to Virginia and Massachusetts.
    Franciscan monks introduced peaches to the Georgia around 1573, when they were sent to St. Simons Island (San Buenaventura Monastery). Here, Native Americans acquired the fruits and planted the seeds as they traveled the woods of Georgia.
    William Bartram, the famous American (and Georgian) botanist and explorer, wrote in his book “Travels” in 1773: “I came presently to old fields …there being abundance of peach and fig trees loaded with fruit.”
    Raphael Moses, a Georgia planter, was among the first to market peaches successfully outside the South in 1851, shipping them in champagne baskets to preserve the flavor of the fruit.
    Marshallville, Georgia resident Samuel H. Rumph purchased a number of “Chinese Cling” peach trees. From one of these seeds of these peach trees grew a tree in 1870 that produced beautiful yellow freestone peaches never seen before. He named this new peach after his wife, whose name just happened to be Clara Elberta. Once he shipped some of this fruit to Arch Deacon and Company in New York, Elberta peaches became an instant favorite.
    Rumph created the Willow Lake Nursery, where they started growing the new Elberta peach trees. He then began the first really successful long-distance commercial venture selling peaches.
    In 1875, Rumph designed a new type of railroad car to ship the peaches in and gave the railroad companies the design for free. He also designed a box on casters that held six crates of peaches on ice for safe and easy transport.
    The highest production of peaches in Georgia reached almost 8 million bushels with the 1928 peach crop. Since then, peach production in Georgia has decreased to about 2.6 million bushels annually.
    China remains the largest world producer of peaches. In 2012, the U.S. harvest was 965,429 tons. California produced 713,000 tons, 74 percent of the nation’s peaches overall, with the majority of those peaches being canned or dried. South Carolina came in as second overall, producing 70,250 tons that were sold almost exclusively as fresh fruit; while Georgia came in third with 31,100 tons, also sold almost exclusively as fresh fruit.

Roger Allen is a local lover of history. Allen provides a brief look each week at the area's past. Email Roger at rwasr1953@gmail.com.

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