It's Peach Pickin' Time
Nothing beats a trip to Dickey Farms' open-air peach market
There’s nothing more “Southern” than a trip to a peach farm in the summertime. And none have more to offer than the open-air peach market at Dickey Farms in Musella, Georgia. People from across Georgia’s Lake Country who make the annual summer pilgrimage to Dickey Farms enjoy the rare opportunity for a uniquely authentic, rural Georgia farm experience.
While it is true you can order peaches from Dickey Farms over the internet, it’s not like buying them first hand at the market. The most fun is a day-trip to Dickey Farms where you experience the full flavor of freshly baked peach bread, homemade peach ice cream, fried peach “hand pies,” and the hospitality of a rocking chair. And of course, you get Georgia-grown peaches and produce fresh off the truck while they have their fullest flavor and highest nutritional value. You can even call ahead and sign up for a guided bus tour of the 1,000-acre farm.
Antiques galore — a walk down memory lane
When you get to Dickey Farms’ open air market, take a “walk about” before you make your buys. Hanging from the ceiling, attached to walls, and scattered here and there among peach baskets and boxes, vegetable bins, and shelves of condiments is a delightful array of rural life antiques: farm implements such as an early Farmall tractor, hand tools, plows, horse collars, old tobacco and egg baskets, an old, drum-style “wringer” washing machine, and an early Coca-Cola ice-chest style drink cooler that still sports its original trademark logo and chills like in the old days — just to name a few.
At the back of the market, on the other side of oversized viewing windows, the peach packing process is in full swing. If you’ve never seen peach processing, it’s worth a look. (The lines run most mornings, but call ahead for a schedule). Here, the peaches are washed, dried, sorted and inspected. Blemished or over-ripe fruit is removed by hand. Those that pass inspection are sorted by size and packed for sale at the market or for shipping. Last year, Dickey Farms shipped more than 80,000 bushels of peaches to all 50 states.
Fried peach hand pie — Oh, my!
All the while you’re at the market, the sweet aroma of fresh-fried peach hand pie floats through the air. One of the South’s original desserts, fried peach pie recipes are passed down through generations and require just the right mix of spices, fruit and dough. Dickey Farms’ fried peach hand pies are true to that Southern tradition.
Even the name peach hand pie is said to be original to the South. It refers to what is known in other regions of our country as a “peach turnover.” But not in the South where rural simplicity is treasured, and not at Dickey Farms. Here, it is a peach “hand pie” — spoken in authentic “Southern” that puts a slow emphasis on the “i” in pie and bespeaks the vernacular pride of a multi-generational heritage.
You can get your peach hand pie served “simple” in a little parchment paper sack that fits perfectly in your hand, or “gussied up” in a bowl with a curled swirl of homemade peach ice cream on top. And if you or the kids just want freshly made-on-the-spot peach ice cream on a cone, you can get that too.
Kick back in a rocking chair and “sit a spell.”
Any way you like it, the best place to sit to eat your hand pie and ice cream is in one of the big ol white rocking chairs that sprawl across the south end of the market floor. Life at the peach market has a casual ambience, so kick back, “sit a spell” and relax in the shade! There’s nothing better on a hot summer day than a lick of Dickey’s peach ice cream — off the cone or off the spoon — while you rock and listen to the chair’s curved runners beat a musical tune on the market’s weathered, wooden floor.
When it’s time to head home, it’s time to shop. Fill your shopping baskets with fresh produce from bins, display tables, and shelves. Find fresh corn iced down in a big galvanized tub. Freshly hulled “pinks” (peas) and butter beans are in the cooler standing at the back wall. And bags, baskets and boxes of peaches are on stands by the door.
If you need assistance, someone will help take your purchases to the car. Most likely, your helper will be a local teen learning a strong work ethic and the foundation of farm business from the ground up. You may even get a friendly “goodbye” wave and a blown kiss from three-year old, sixth-generation, Scarlett Dickey. Southern hospitality” is her heritage. The Dickey family has been farming Georgia’s heartland and extending their special brand of rural hospitality for well over 120 years.
Shop every season at Dickey Farms
Dickey Farms spreads over 1,000 acres, has over 100,000 peach trees, and is home to Georgia’s oldest continuously operating peach packing house. The same family has owned Dickey Farms since 1897. Robert Dickey, the current and fourth generation owner, was named “2019 GEORGIA FARMER OF THE YEAR”— an award that comes as no surprise to those who visit the market during peach season...or for that matter, any time of year! The open air market operates year round with offerings that reflect Georgia’s growing cycle.
An easy drive from Georgia’s Lake Country to the heartland
From Georgia’s Lake Country, Dickey Farms is an easy drive down Highway 44 to Eatonton. Then Route 36 to Barnesville, and Highway 341 to Musella. Go through the small, rural town, look for a sign on the left and follow the lane down to the dead end. You can’t miss it! Another popular route is by way of Forsyth, then State Route 42 until it intersects Highway 341. Look for the sign. To contact Dickey Farms, call 478-836-4362 or search dickeyfarms.com.
Photos and story by Judi M. Collins, published in Lakelife May-June 2020
Old-Fashioned Fried Peach Hand Pie Recipe
Dickey Farms does not publish their fried peach hand pie recipe. But below is my family’s 100+ year old recipe. Originally thickened with flour, I now substitute “Instant Clearjel.” It does not cloud the fruit filling. Find at most grocery stores. Publix can special order it. Or just use regular cornstarch or flour to thicken your filling — my Grandmother would probably consider it heresy that I changed her recipe!
Part #1: Fruit Filling:
6 cups sugar.
2 ½ cups Instant Clearjel,
1 teaspoon cinnamon
7 cups cold water
7 quarts fresh peaches, sliced and drained
Combine sugar, cinnamon, Instant Clearjel and water. (Note: I save peach juice and substitute it for equal amounts of water.). Cook on medium high heat until it thickens and begins bubbling (about 7 minutes). Mixture should not be runny. Fold in peaches, remove from heat, cool, then chill. (Sometimes, I add a few chopped pecans and raisins.)
Part #2: Fried Pie:
5 cups all-purpose flour
1 teaspoon baking powder
1 teaspoon salt
1 teaspoon sugar
1 cup shortening, softened
2 large eggs, slightly beaten
1 (13 oz. can) evaporated milk
2 ½ cups fruit filling
Shortening for frying (I use coconut oil.)
Sift together flour, baking powder, salt, sugar. Cut in shortening. In a second bowl, mix eggs and milk; add to flour mixture. Mix with fork just until dough holds together. Do not over mix. Roll out dough to 1/8” thickness. Cut 7” rounds. Fill one side of circle with chilled fruit filling, leaving an unfilled space along edges. Fold other side of pastry circle over fruit and bring edges together. Press with finger and thumb or a fork to tightly seal. Deep fry pies in very hot oil (2” deep) until golden brown. (About two minutes per side). Cool on a rack before serving.