One of the produce section's shining joys of summer gets its due in "The Peach Truck Cookbook" (Scribner, $28).
The book tells the story of Jessica and Stephen Rose, a Nashville couple who built a booming business selling Georgia-raised peaches off the back of a 1964 Jeep Gladiator.
After developing a rabid following — intensely juicy, deeply flavorful peaches will do that — the Roses extended their marketing efforts to other cities. Seven years after making their first sale, the couple's passion for peaches comes through in this gotta-have cookbook, which features 100 recipes that fully exploit the stone fruit's wide range of attributes.
Enter photographer Eliesa Johnson. Her sharp eye captures the Queen of Fruit in all of its glory, whether she's depicting fruit pickers working in the early-morning light at Pearson Farm near Stephen Rose's hometown of Fort Valley, Ga., or she's turning a peach- and pancetta-topped pizza into a work of art in a Nashville studio.
In a recent phone conversation, Johnson discussed the details involved in collaborating on a cookbook and the lasting impression created by the miraculous first taste of a just-picked peach.
Q: How did a Minnesota photographer become involved with Tennessee-based fruit vendors?
A: I met Jessica and Stephen in 2015 during an assignment for Food & Wine magazine. The shoot was pretty magical, and we all bonded really well. We stayed in touch and in 2017 they contacted me and said, "We're thinking of doing this book. Can we invite you back?"
Q: Did working on the book change your view about peaches?
A: My mind has been blown a little. I became more than a little bit enchanted with peaches, especially after visiting the farm. It's magical, and it's great to go there and meet the people who work from dawn to dusk picking peaches. Until I visited the farm, I'd never tasted a peach that was fresh off the vine, and that experience is a whole different ballgame.
What's also great is the way Stephen and Jessica have created such a culture around peaches, and how people turn out for them. When they go on tour in Florida, or Texas, or Ohio, you'll see hundreds, if not a thousand, people waiting in line to buy bushels of these peaches. In Nashville during peach season, there's a cool cast of chefs from the city's food scene who use Peach Truck peaches in their cooking.
Q: What was your favorite part of shooting images for the book? Visiting Pearson Farm in Georgia? Shooting images of the truck in action? Spending time in the studio with recipes?
A: Kind of all of the above. At the farm, they're the most hospitable people imaginable. We spent three weeks in the studio shooting recipes, and I worked with an amazing team. We all lived in an Airbnb in Nashville while we were making the book. It was also great to spend time with Stephen and Jessica and their kids, and documenting their lives outside of peaches. It was really cool to bring all of that together in a book — the farm, the recipes, the family, the Nashville scene — because that's what's interesting to me as a photographer.
Q: Are there recipes in the book that you find particularly appealing?
A: There's a stone fruit crostini that's really lovely. I made it the other day and it was really good. The Old-Fashioned and other cocktails are great. I'm definitely partial to the Lemon Peach Pound Cake, and the fish tacos, and the Marche Peach Tartine. It's super-simple, with ricotta, peaches and honey. That's what I love about the recipes. They're all very approachable and easy to execute. They perform really well, because they were tested and tested. And they re-imagine the peach. The book is not just about traditional cobbler and pie.
Q: Following you on Instagram (@eliesajohnson and @the_restaurant_ project) is a lot of fun. What advice can you impart to smartphone-wielding diners who are shooting social media-bound food images?
A: Natural light is always going to be your best friend.
Lemon Peach Pound Cake
Chop the peaches finely for optimal distribution throughout the loaf.
1 c. (2 sticks) unsalted butter, at room temperature, plus more for pans
1 3/4 cups flour, plus more for pans
1/2 cup coarse yellow cornmeal
2 teaspoons baking powder
1 1/2 teaspoons salt
1/2 cup buttermilk
1/4 cup whole milk
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
1 1/2 cups granulated sugar
2 teaspoons freshly grated lemon zest
4 eggs, at room temperature
2 cups chopped fresh peaches (about 2 medium peaches)
2 cups powdered sugar, plus more if needed
1/4 cup freshly squeezed lemon juice, plus more if needed
Heat oven to 350 degrees. Grease 2 (4- by 8-inch) loaf pans with butter, dust them with flour, and tap out any excess flour.
In a medium bowl, whisk together the flour, cornmeal, baking powder and salt, and reserve.
In a small bowl, whisk together buttermilk, milk and vanilla extract, and reserve.
In a bowl of an electric mixer on medium speed, beat 1 cup butter and granulated sugar until light and fluffy, about 3 minutes. Add lemon zest and beat until well incorporated. Add the eggs, 1 at a time, beating well after each addition.
Reduce speed to low and add flour mixture in 3 additions, alternating with the milk mixture and scraping down sides of bowl frequently. Beat the batter for a final 30 to 60 seconds, until it is thoroughly combined. Fold in the peaches.
Divide the batter evenly between the 2 pans. Bake until a cake tester inserted into the center of the cake comes out clean, 50 to 60 minutes. Remove from oven and transfer pans to a wire rack to cool for 1 hour. Remove cakes from pans.
In a medium bowl, whisk together the powdered sugar and lemon juice, adding more sugar and/or juice as needed to adjust the consistency. Pour the glaze over the top of the cakes and let set before slicing and serving.
Nutrition information per each of 16 slices: 330 calories, 13 g fat, 320 mg sodium, 50 g carbohydrates, 8 g saturated fat, 33 mg total sugars, 4 g protein, 80 mg cholesterol, 1 g dietary fiber. Diabetic exchanges per serving: 1 starch, 2 1/2 carb, 2 1/2 fat.
From "The Peach Truck Cookbook," by Jessica N. Rose and Stephen K. Rose.
Stone Fruit Crostini
Makes about 16 crostini.
"Cherries are our favorite accompaniment, but any mix of stone fruits will do," write the authors of "The Peach Truck Cookbook."
4 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil, divided, plus extra for garnish
1 tablespoon chopped shallot
2 tablespoons apple cider vinegar
2 teaspoons freshly chopped thyme, plus thyme leaves for garnish
1/2 teaspoon kosher salt
1/2 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
2 cups chopped stone fruits (such as peaches, plums, nectarines or cherries, use a mix of whatever you have on hand)
8 ounces burrata cheese, at room temperature
Flaky sea salt
Heat oven to 425 degrees.
Slice the baguette crosswise into 1/2-inch-thick slices. Place the baguette slices in a single layer on a baking sheet. Drizzle with 2 tablespoons olive oil. Bake until toasted, about 10 minutes, flipping the baguette slices halfway through baking. Remove from oven.
In a medium bowl, whisk together the shallot, vinegar, remaining 2 tablespoons olive oil, 2 teaspoons thyme, kosher salt and pepper. Add the stone fruits and toss to coat. Let stand for 10 minutes.
Smear the burrata on the baguette slices. Top with the fruit mixture, evenly dividing among crostini. Drizzle with additional olive oil, sprinkle with thyme leaves and sea salt, and serve.
Nutrition information per each of 16 crostini: 95 calories, 6 g fat, 165 mg sodium, 8 g carbohydrates, 2 g saturated fat, 0 mg total sugars, 4 g protein, 7 mg cholesterol, 1 g dietary fiber. Diabetic exchanges per serving: 1/2 carb, 1 medium-fat protein, 1/2 fat.
From "The Peach Truck Cookbook," by Jessica N. Rose and Stephen K. Rose.