Peaches became a crop in Arkansas after the Civil War. Photo by Kat Robinson.
Category: Uniquely Arkansas


Peach Vanilla Cream Pie

Photo by Kat Robinson

6 whole graham crackers, pounded to crumbs

1 tablespoon butter, melted

1 (8-ounce) package cream cheese, at room temperature

7 ounces sweetened condensed milk

2 teaspoons vanilla extract

1 tablespoon lemon juice

4  fresh, ripe peaches, sliced

In a large bowl, blend together graham cracker crumbs with butter, then press into pie pan. Set aside.

In a large bowl, blend together cream cheese, sweetened condensed milk, vanilla extract and lemon juice. Pour into pie crust. Place peach slices on top. Cover and refrigerate until ready to serve.

Recipe from “The Great Arkansas Pie Book” by Kat Robinson.

Johnson County Peach Festival is ripe for the picking

Whether it’s in a cobbler, under ice cream or straight off a tree, a peach is one of summer’s best flavors. For nearly 150 years, Arkansas has enjoyed the fruits of the orchard on the regular.

The Peach Pickin’ Paradise in Lamar offers pick-your-own peaches. Photo by Kat Robinson.

According to the Encyclopedia of Arkansas, “peaches were introduced as a crop in Arkansas after the Civil War, as were many other fruits and vegetables, during the New South Diversification movement in agriculture.” This meant having different crops in circulation to keep from being dependent on a single crop, like cotton.

“Historically, the major peach production areas were the southern reach of the Ouachita Mountains from Mena to Hope,” says Dr. Curt R. Rom, a professor with the University of Arkansas’ Department of Horticulture. “At one time the nation’s largest peach orchard was in Nashville. They grew especially well on the ridgelines and hills bordering the Arkansas River from Atkins to Fort Smith, with the region of Russellville to Clarksville and Ozark being the epicenter. Some locations in Northwest Arkansas had microclimates where peaches grew well, but location was important. Northwest Arkansas had a reputation of lack of reliability due to spring frosts.”

In the flesh

Dr. Amanda McWhirt, fruit and vegetable extension specialist with the University of Arkansas System Division of Agriculture, says, “Peaches bloom in early spring, and the blooms can be killed by spring frosts. Every few years, we get a smaller peach crop if there are bad freezes during peach bloom.”

McWhirt continues, “Peach season is generally June to July in Arkansas. Typically, mid-June is when harvest starts in the southern part of the state, but this year, it appears to be starting a bit earlier.”

The cultivation of Elberta peaches sparked a burgeoning industry at the end of the 19th century. Unlike many older varieties, Elbertas were sturdy and firm enough to be transported by rail and had a longer shelf life, so they could be sent fresh to further away places. James R. Tolbert and Johnson J. Taylor started growing Elbertas in Johnson County in 1893, and they were soon adopted all across the state, including at that aforementioned nation’s largest peach orchard in Nashville. At one point, up to 175 boxcars of peaches were sent out daily.

Today, a wide range of cultivars, many developed through the University of Arkansas Fruit Research Station at Clarksville, have diversified the peach crop. Eat-fresh peaches, like the White Cloud and the White Diamond, have come from this work, as well as cling peaches for canning such as the Roygold and the Goldilocks.

Pageants are part of the Johnson County Peach Festival’s fun. Photo courtesy of Johnson County Peach Festival.

These newer peaches mean more peaches to harvest over time. “Newer cultivars can extend through August and early September, and some local growers have those to sustain markets until fall crops,” Rom adds.

Pickin’ and partying

Mark Morgan with Peach Pickin’ Paradise, a pick-your-own operation in Lamar, says a freeze in March means peaches will be available earlier than expected this year.

“We usually have a six-to-seven-week, late June, July, August window, but this year, we have them in mid-June,” Morgan reveals. “We could have a longer season, but this is how it works with the type of peaches we have planted. For those who want to come pick their own, any Saturday in July is good, and we should have plenty around the time for the peach festival.”

Johnson County has long celebrated its affection for the fuzzy fruit. In 1938, a celebratory festival was first held in the Ludwig community. Since then, it has been moved to the county seat at Clarksville, and it now sits on the third week of July. Over the course of three days, the town celebrates with a parade, peach-eating and peach-pie-eating contests, a cardboard boat regatta, beauty pageants, fishing tournaments, a greased pig chase, a frog jump, a peach cobbler bake-off, a terrapin derby and pocket car races. And of course, there are plenty of opportunities to purchase peaches.

The Johnson County Peach Festival is July 18-20 on the downtown square in Clarksville. For more information, visit

And if you’d like to pick your own at Peach Pickin’ Paradise, information on what peaches are available and what hours the orchards are open is available at