Last week Kelly and I went in search of peaches.
Having visited a friend in Berwick a week earlier and discovering that Dempsey Corner Orchard grew peaches (amongst a myriad of other delicious fruits and veggies), Kelly was eager to head out to the farm and pick some plump Valley peaches.
Dempsey’s has been around for over 160 years and every summer opens its gates to those who are eager to pick their own fruits and vegetables, flourishing their way into the fall months with a fantastic harvest on their property near Aylesford, Nova Scotia.
We arrive mid-morning after a foggy drive from Halifax, just in time for the skies to clear over the Valley and brighten the worn red buildings of the farm.
Allison Maher, owner and farmer extraordinaire, maps out the plots for us and gives Kelly and I tips on how to pick ripe fruit and vegetables.
'You never pick like this!' she says grabbing her chest roughly, explaining that over-ambitious u-pickers often paw at the peaches, bruising them before they ripen to their gorgeous rosy hue. Allison instructs us to cup the peaches with a palm of the hand, gently rolling them off the branch, easing them into a basket.
With a wagon, a stack of baskets, and a map, we venture into the orchards. It's a warm, late August day, but as we make our way up the slow incline of the fields, you can feel the chill of fall just around the corner.
As we head to the very back of the orchard near the woods where the peaches are supposedly the ripest and biggest, the valley opens below us. From the side of North Mountain, the rich bounty of the Annapolis Valley glows in the sunlight.
I can't believe how beautiful the peaches are; plump and big, gathered together in small bunches on the trees, or hanging solo near a bottom branch. I didn't even know peaches grew in Nova Scotia and I feel we’ve been transported to a secret tropical place bursting with greens, yellows, and oranges. The light from the midday sun scattersthrough the leaves of the trees reflecting off the peaches and though it’s windy, makes it easier to find the peaches in the trees.
The smell of the peaches is strong and fresh;I spent most of the morning easing them off their branches and smelling them, feeling their soft fuzzy skin on my fingertips.
Soon, we have to stop ourselves from picking too many. It was so easy, the sun was shining, we could have stayed all day in the fields.
I considered staying forever.
What did we do with the peaches?
Made something delicious, of course.
Peach Bread Pudding with Bourbon and Vanilla Bean (recipe adapted by Kelly Neil from this recipe by Barbara Young)
4 C bread cut into 1/2 inch cubes
1/4 C sugar
1/2 tsp cinnamon
1/2 tsp nutmeg
3/4 C melted butter
2 C chopped peaches (2 large or 3-4 small peaches)
1/4 C Bourbon
1/2 vanilla bean, seeds scraped
1 C dark brown sugar
buttered casserole dish
preheat oven to 350º
in a large bowl stir bread, sugar, cinnamon and nutmeg together – add melted butter and stir until bread is well coated/soaked – set aside
in another bowl, stir together chopped peaches, Bourbon, vanilla bean seeds and brown sugar until well combined
spread 1/3 of peach mixture into the buttered casserole dish – top with 1/2 bread mixture – spread second 1/3 of peaches into dish – top with remaing bread mixture – finish with last 1/3 of peaches
bake, uncovered for 23-25 minutes until dish is bubbling and top is brown and crispy – serve warm topped with whipped cream or ice cream
Allison was amazingly kind and funny – she took time out of her day to take us up into the corn fields where she fed us fresh sweet corn, and CORN SILK, straight off the stalk. With chickens, baby goats, cows, a sandbox with money buried in it (you find it, you keep it!), a small café with homemade cookies, cupcakes and other treats, plus the u-pick fields (plums and pears will be ready for picking over the next few weeks), Dempsey’s is a great place to take the kids or escape from the city. A huge thank you goes out to @littlegraybird's mum Donna for the recipe inspiration!! She fed me a blueberry version when I was in Berwick visiting littlegraybird and I nearly died and went to heaven it was so good!!! ~kn
To visit Dempsey Corner Orchard take Highway 101 West from Halifax to Berwick (Exit 15). Take a right at the top of the Exit 15 ramp and drive 5-7 minutes until you hit Route 221 then take a left. Dempsey’s is about 10 minutes down the 221 on the right hand side.
To read more of Gabby's writing, please visit her blog atwww.thefoodgirlintown.com.