If this were a perfectly peachy world, the town of Porter would be gearing up to welcome thousands of visitors for the Porter Peach Festival.
This annual event, which was originally scheduled for Thursday-Sunday, July 16-19, celebrates the fruit that has been a major part of this Wagoner County town’s identity and economy, and which has earned it the title of “Peach Capital of Oklahoma.”
The town had been planning to carry on as usual this year — at least, up until the first of July, when festival officials announced that they were canceling what would have been the 54th annual Porter Peach Festival out of concern over the coronavirus pandemic and the recent uptick in cases in Oklahoma.
“We received some guidelines about what would be required to keep everyone safe at the festival, and we realized that there was really no way to meet those guidelines,” said Alan Parnell, chairman of the Porter Peach Festival.
“It wasn’t an easy decision to make (to cancel the festival),” Parnell said. “This festival has a tremendous impact on a small community like this.”
The Porter Peach Festival is the main fundraising event for the local Lions Club, which uses the funds raised for a variety of community services, from providing eyeglasses and eye care to those in need, to upgrading the town’s parks, to supporting programs for young people, such as the 4-H Club and Future Farmers of America.
“Beyond that,” Parnell said, “there are the local organizations and businesses that have booths during the festival who rely on income from the festival. But at the same time, we have to take the safety of the community as a whole into consideration.”
Rather than completely scrapping the festival, organizers came up with the idea of hosting an “Unfestival,” with a series of events that would allow people to savor the bounty of Porter peaches in ways that allowed for social distancing.
“Because the festival is our primary fundraiser, we wanted to be able to do something for this year,” said Melanie Warren, president of the Porter Lions Club.
One of the things planned is to hold a virtual peach auction, where participants bid on bushels of the best peaches from Livesay Orchards, which is the principal supplier of peaches for the festival.
Participants can make bids through the festival’s Facebook page, facebook.com/PorterPeachFestival, for a number of items, including what Warren described as “family fun packs,” designed to showcase all the town has to offer. Bids for auction items will be taken until midnight Saturday, July 18.
In addition, the festival has set up three challenges to encourage people to visit Porter during this week.
One challenge is a scavenger hunt called, “Where in Porter is the Peach?” A different business in Porter will hide a peach somewhere within its location that participants may search for during specific hours, with the person finding the furtive fruit earning a certificate for prizes.
The second challenge is “Support Your Small Town: Buy a Product, Post a Photo,” where those who purchase items from certain venues and post a photograph on social media will be entered in a prize drawing.
The third challenge is the “Happy B T-shirt Challenge,” in which people who purchase a commemorative festival T-shirt from select vendors and post a selfie wearing said shirt will be eligible for a prize drawing.
These challenges will continue through Saturday, July 18. Complete rules are posted on the festival’s website, porterpeachfestivals.com, and Facebook page.
“We thought these would be things we could do that would still be in the spirit of the festival and not require having a big crowd of people,” Warren said.
And fortunately for lovers of Porter peaches, this year’s crop at Livesay Orchards is shaping up to be a good one.
Two years ago, a late-season freeze wiped out a good portion of the Livesay crop, and for the first time in decades, peaches had to be imported for the Porter festival.
This year, another unexpected freeze took its toll on the state’s blackberry crop, but Kent Livesay of Livesay Orchards said it did not adversely affect the acres of peach trees.
“I’d say this year’s crop will be about average in size,” he said. “The other produce we sell is also doing pretty well.”
The orchard and its retail outlet, the Peach Barn, opened to the public in mid-June and have established measures to ensure social distancing, including requesting that patrons wear masks.
Even with such restrictions, Livesay said sales at the orchard have been commensurate with last year.
“We still have people coming in from all over to buy peaches,” he said.
While some may think that ripe peaches are best enjoyed right off the tree, or as part of a pie or cobbler, this stone fruit is a versatile ingredient, which can be used in all sorts of recipes.
Here are a few ways to sweeten your summer in new ways with Oklahoma peaches. And look for more peach-centric recipes from Judy Allen in Saturday’s Tulsa World.
BACON, PEACH AND BRIE SANDWICH WITH FRESH PEACH JAM
6 slices bacon
1 peach, thinly sliced
Brie cheese, thinly sliced
Unsalted butter, at room temperature
4 slices whole wheat bread
Fresh peach jam (recipe below)
1. Cook bacon. Transfer to a paper towel-lined plate and set aside.
2. With a butter knife, spread butter on one side of each slice of bread.
3. Divide peaches, Brie and bacon evenly on two slices of bread. Spread jam on the other two slices of bread and place, jam side down, on top of sandwiches.
4. Cook sandwiches in a skillet over medium heat until golden brown and the cheese has melted slightly, about 3-4 minutes. Serve immediately.
2 peaches | 8 ounces honey | 1 lemon
1. Pit, peel and chop peaches. Combine with honey in a small bowl and let sit about 10 minutes.
2. Cut lemon in half and juice into small bowl. Measure out 3 tablespoons and add to the fruit.
3. Add peach mixture to a small saucepan. Cook on medium low, stirring regularly, until the peaches soften, the liquid reduces and it becomes thick and spreadable, about 15 minutes. If you like, during cooking, you can use a potato masher to help break down the peach pieces.
4. The jam is done when you can pull a spoon or spatula through it and jam doesn’t immediately rush in to fill the space you’ve cleared.
5. Cool and place in a jar or resealable container. Keeps in refrigerator for up to two weeks.
3 large ripe peaches, pitted and cut into quarters
½ cup sugar
1 quart plus 1 cup water, divided
1 cup fresh lemon juice (6-8 lemons)
1. In a medium saucepan, combine fresh peaches, 1 cup water and sugar. Cook over medium heat until boiling. Reduce heat, simmer for 5 minutes. Let cool.
2. Place in blender and blend until smooth. Using a sieve over a 2-quart pitcher, press peach syrup through sieve.
3. Add fresh lemon juice.
4. Add at least one quart water and taste. Add more water to make the lemonade less concentrated, if you want. Add additional sweetener to taste. Add ice to chill and serve.