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Peaching to the Choir
It’s a draw when two festivals devoted to one fruit converge on the same summer weekend.
By Nathan Gunter
Published May/June 2015
We’ve got enough ice cream for ten more servings!” John Burnett calls to those in line.
From customers eleven and back, faces fall. Some have traveled more than an hour for a taste of the Burnett family’s legendary homemade peach ice cream. The Stratford Peach Festival officially opened at 9 a.m., but the Burnetts already had sold three of their fifty-six gallons by then. As John makes the announcement, his wife, Cheryl, rushes home to make six more gallons—enough to feed an additional sixty customers.
“Every year, I say I’m not going to go home to make more ice cream,” says Cheryl, “and every year, I do it.”
Some choose to wait. Others head off—more than eighty booths, including one where kids can take a picture with a retired circus bear on a leash, compete for their attention. For hours, people have been lining up in City Park to buy peaches, and they’re going fast. Big signs on U.S. Highway 177 welcome visitors to the “Peach Capital of Oklahoma.”
On the same day, 159 miles northeast, those same words stand out in black letters on a metal water tower. Beneath it, tens of thousands crowd into the small Wagoner County town of Porter.
The parade has begun—antique cars ah-wooga down Main Street, followed by fire engines, politicians waving from convertibles, and Shriners. Meanwhile, the folks from the First United Methodist Church bustle around a trailer and adjacent tent. Under the tent, rows of jars filled with peach jam, peach salsa, and peach barbecue sauce glow orange in the morning light. Lifelong Porter resident Janice Chance slings cobbler with a side of vanilla ice cream and a festival-famous peach drink—the recipe is a carefully guarded secret—for the throngs gathered outside her trailer.
“I just made a trip up to the church to get some more cobblers,” Chance says. “I ran into three or four people I knew, but I was in such a hurry, all I had time for was a hug.”
Outside the fire station, Ronald Walters watches the parade pass by with his father, 102-year-old Andy. The year he turned a hundred, Andy, who lives in nearby Haskell, was the parade’s grand marshal. Since the Porter Peach Festival started in 1966, he’s been to all but one.
“The year I turned ninety-nine, I forgot about it,” he says. “But it’s lots of fun. I see lots of people.”
Photo by REBEKAH MORROW
When the parade ends, the auction begins. Local senator Kim David wins the bid for the winning half-bushel of peaches, and representative Wade Rousselou takes the second-place half-bushel. Ranchers Pipe and Steel in Tulsa places the winning three hundred-dollar bid on Charlene Youngblood’s first-prize cobbler. Miss Peach, Skyler Bratt, has changed out of seafoam tulle and into a T-shirt and shorts—tiara still in place—and takes a quick turn at the microphone as auctioneer. When the fire department doors roll up, a crowd of hundreds lines up for free Porter peaches and ice cream, courtesy of the Porter Lions Club, which organizes the festival.
Today, between Porter and Stratford, more than 30,000 people will hit the road in search of Oklahoma peaches. But which is Oklahoma’s true peach capital? Citizens of each town are aware of the simultaneous festival in the other, but no one seems concerned.
Photo by REBEKAH MORROW
“We each have different varieties of peaches,” says Craig Pullen, whose Pullen Peaches north of Stratford took home the 2012 award for best peach at his city’s festival. “They have their festival, and we have ours.”
Kent Livesay is equally sanguine. He runs Porter’s Livesay Orchards with his brother Steve, and their more than one hundred acres of peach trees supply all the fruit for Porter’s festival.
“I wouldn’t consider it a rivalry,” he says. “I’m certainly aware of the Stratford festival, but I’ve never had time to go.”
Those hoping for a state peach standoff may be disappointed. But Okies with an itch for the sweet summer satisfaction of road trip and tangy peach are the real winners.
Get There: The Porter Peach Festival, porterpeachfestivals.com. The Stratford Peach Festival, (405) 924-1824 or stratfordchamberofcommerce.weebly.com.