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 Minneapolis 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: Do you have any restaurant recommendations for first-time Nashville visitors?
A: I love the city, and I did a lot of eating while I was there. I still keep a little list on my phone. My favorite is City House. They do an incredible job. There’s a very hipster coffee shop called Barista Parlor that has the most perfect breakfast sandwich. When we went back for the launch of the book, I went there all four mornings for that biscuit; I love it that much. There’s a tamales joint called Mas Tacos that’s pretty amazing. I’m so excited for Sean Brock’s new concept in East Nashville. The focus is going to be on Appalachian food.
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 Marché 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: The Peach Truck branches out of Nashville and visits 100 cities in a dozen states. Can you convince Jessica and Stephen to make the journey to the Twin Cities?
A: I am lobbying so hard. They’ll ship anywhere in the country during peach season. I know that they’re getting lots of sales from Minnesota, which I’m hoping will sway them as they schedule their tour. I think Minnesotans will stand in line for peaches. I’ll rally the crowd.
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.