It’s only 95 degrees out as we drive through the little berg of Sunnyside in the Yakima Valley but it feels much hotter. Nobody is outside (why would they be?) and about the only traffic down main street is a Barney Fife-wannabe weaving down the middle of the empty highway at 60 or 70 mph with his siren wailing and lights flashing.
“What’s Sunnyside known for?” I ask Co?
“Well….,” he says, and then there’s a long pause before he mentions that there’s a pretty good brew pub in town and he knows of a taco truck where you can get damn good carnitas. “Oh!” he says, remembering something else, “And you can buy the best damn peaches in the valley at that little produce stand we just passed.”
Peaches? Hell, let’s turn around.
The first thing you notice when you pull into the parking lot in front of Hutchinson Produce, beside the fact that the building looks like it used to be a gas station or an auto repair shop, is the sign advertising TOMATOES CANTS COTS APPLES MELONS.
Tomatoes, apples, melons—I get that. But what, I ask Co, are cants and cots?
“Cantaloupes and apricots.”
Why don’t they just say so? I ask him.
He shrugs. That’s just what they’re called out here.
Inside Hutchinson’s, an elderly lady is leaning against her walker while pressing her fleshy thumbs into the fuzzy skin of a softball-sized peach beneath a sign that says “Don’t Pinch Me I’m Tender.”
There are cribs of fresh sweet corn, bins of giant watermelon, and baskets of raspberries, blackberries, and huckleberries (a huckleberry, if you don’t know, looks almost exactly like a blueberry but has larger seeds which makes them more difficult to eat). But I’m here for the peaches whose sweet ripe scent wafts over the dry hot air like an alluring perfume.
There are piles of donut peaches and bushel baskets of fleshy Freestones and bins of both white and yellow peaches. The whole scene just makes me salivate. As I’m standing there, looking a little lost, the owner, Dolores, who disconcertingly sports the exact same hairdo as Aunt Bea from The Andy Griffith Show, a sort of wavy, gray-haired bouffant with the type of ringlets crowning the hive that was popular with prom girls back in the 60s, comes out from behind the counter to stand about a foot behind me with her arms crossed over her chest. Obviously she thinks I’m here to steal her peaches or, at the very least, squeeze them.
“Can I help you?” she says sternly.
Yep, I tell her. I’m here for peaches. “Maybe you’d be kind enough to personally pick a dozen or so of your finest stone fruit for me.”
She’s charmed, I think, and immediately gets a bag and slowly fills it with her magnificent fruit. The bag is so heavy I have to hold it from the bottom to keep it from splitting the seams yet the whole juicy bundle costs only four dollars and six cents. What a deal.
Back out in the parking lot, I hand out just-picked peaches to everyone and we stand there, like a bunch of stone-fruit addicts, the juice running freely down our chins and hands. We don’t peel the peaches or even wash them. No time for that. I eat one in about 20 seconds and then start on a second.
It’s too much for Dolores who comes rushing out of the produce stand with a roll of paper towels, giving each of us one to wipe away the mess. She hands me one and says, “Good?”
“You know what, Dolores? I believe this is the best damn peach I’ve ever had in my life.”
Dolores pats her Aunt Bea hairdo and smiles. “There’s a sink in the back if you need to wash up,” she says.
After running some cold water over my face, I head back to the parking lot.
“Come back anytime,” Dolores calls after me.
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