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Growing up in the Coal Region during the ’60’s and ’70’s meant going to “markets” on a regular basis with my family during the summer and early fall. By “markets”, I mean some of the cornerstones in the agricultural connection in Schuylkill County (southern tip of the Anthracite region). The county is rich in fertile farmland with much of the southern and western end a brilliant display of patchwork greens throughout the growing season.
Among one of our many favorite markets was Crossroads Auction and Market in Gratz (Pa.) in neighboring Dauphin County. Friday nights were reserved for Gratz (like Sundays were for shopping and exploring Renninger’s Market in Schuylkill Haven, and Wednesday for the Hometown Market (Hometown, Pa,) or Leesport Market (Lesport, Pa.) in neighboring Berks County.
From fresh meats, candy favorites, eggs, cheeses, fresh still-warm-from-the-field produce to touch-lamp repair and hard-to-find vacuum parts, these markets were not just a shopping experience but a social event. You were guaranteed to find something new every visit, but your favorites were always waiting, too.
One of my favorite finds was a stand at Gratz that sold fresh peach fritters in season. As we pulled into the dusty parking lot in the balmy early evening of late August, Pop would circle the lot – past Buicks and Chevys and Ford pick up trucks and lines of Amish buggies and horses tethered near the outdoor stands – while I scanned the stands to see if “THE FRITTER” place was open.
Ordinarily, my first move out the car was a direct beeline to the fresh cut french fry stand where I patiently waited for my white, cone-shaped cup full of steaming just-cooked fries to reach my hands. I would douse them with salt and distilled vinegar from a glass bottle of Heinz vinegar with a hole punched in its metal cap to be used as a “shaker” right at the window where you picked up your order. Once those babies were in my hands (and mouth), everything else there was icing on the cake.
I would dutifully follow Mom and Pop as they made the loop up and around the main aisle and throughout the outside vendors and try to look interested in beef sticks, smoked cheese, glazed donuts, cabbage and corn and any of the various other “finds” of the evening they seemed to think were noteworthy. (Okay, I admit – the candy stand that sold the watermelon and molasses coconut strips was capable of turning my head and making me stop for a purchase or two).
But near the end of summer, as fresh peaches were plentiful and in all their juicy glory in the Coal Region, there was a stand that sold the best peach fritters my young self had ever indulged in. Crispy on the outside, steaming, soft, speckled with fresh peach chunks on the inside, they came to you in a bag, sprinkled generously with powdered sugar, often right out the fryer and far too hot to eat. Oh, the torture waiting for them to cool down so I could take that first bite!
When my Pop got sick and the symptoms of Black Lung weakened this once strong miner, our weekly family trips became fewer and fewer. By the late ’70’s, Pop was no longer able to walk the markets and for Mom and I it was just not fun without him so we stopped going. But I never stopped thinking of late summer at Gratz and those yummy peach fritters. Forty plus years later, I can close my eyes and see and hear that market and taste those fritters (and fries).
This recipe reminds me of those ;lovely peach fritters from Gratz and walking with Mom and Pop through the market, fritters in one hand, bags of fresh Pennsylvania produce in the other.
Fresh peaches are the best to use although well-drained canned or thawed frozen will work As I write this, fresh peaches are still available in Pa., although not for long. Take advantage of them and treat your family to some fritters today!
I like to use a small cookie scoop to drop the fritter batter into the oil for frying. I prefer to use a small counter top fryer on my worktable rather than a pan on the stove; it is easier for me to reach from a seated position from my power chair (which means “safer”) and several fryers on the market have great temperature controls build right in. If you do not have an electric fryer, a deep pan and a frying thermometer will also work.
For successful frying of these fritters, make sure your oil is not too hot or the fritter will be overcooked on the outside while still under cooked on the inside. You may need to adjust the temperature throughout frying and remember not to crowd the fryer or pan when cooking the fritters. I drain my fritters briefly on paper towel before dousing with powdered sugar.
Peach FrittersCourse: Dessert, SnacksCuisine: Pa. Dutch, Coal RegionDifficulty: Intermediate
Golden brown and delicious, flecked with sweet pieces of peach, these fritters will become a family favorite.
1/2 cup white sugar
2 eggs, well beaten
1/3 cup softened butter
2 cups all purpose flour
1 Tablespoon baking powder
1/2 teaspoon salt
1 cup milk
1/2 teaspoon lemon juice
1/2 teaspoon vanilla
1 1/2 cups chopped peaches (fresh or well-drained canned or frozen)
- Cream the butter and sugar; add the eggs. and beat thoroughly. Stir in the milk, lemon juice and vanilla.
- Sift the dry ingredients together and fold into the wet mixture until incorporated.
- Fold in the peaches.
- Drop by small spoon fulls into hot oil or shortening (350 to 375F adjusting as needed). Do not make too large; the outside will become overdone before the inside is cooked. Fry until golden brown. Fry a few at a time not crowding pan.
- Remove when cooked and golden and drain on rack on paper towels. Sprinkle while warm with powdered sugar and serve.
- From the book “Pennsylvania Dutch Cooking”