Thursday, October 28, 2010

Peaches: a Look Back with Gratitude

I just reread this post and recalled a sweet memory. I'm creating new memories as I share peach preserves,canned last July with friends on my autumn road trip. We are now well into fall and the joy derived from my summer canning continues.Let's take a peek back at summer while enjoying the fall harvest. If I can learn to can anyone can.

This summer one of my goals was to take this healthy living concept we have been working on to the next step. We have planted a garden and become more mindful of what is in out food and how it is grown. A natural extension of that is learning how to preserve our food. I have been intrigued for many years by the thought of putting food up for the winter. I wanted to learn to preserve food at its freshest and be able to enjoy it all year long. 

This month I achieved that goal with the help of my good friends, Tamara and Nancy and our team effort to familiarize or refamilairize ourselves with the process of putting food by. As it was peach season, they became the obvious choice for the project. I had gone to Fredericksburg Texas and returned with between two and three bushels of peaches ready for use. 

It’s important to note that this is summer in Texas and one of the hottest summers I can recall. Hot weather added to peaches will result in a very short ripening period. When peaches are ripe they are very ripe and the window of time till they become over ripe and bad is quite small. You can now begin to visualize all that ensued in the week between bringing the peaches home and canning day. 

     The initial sort led to a bowlful of peaches that needed to be used immediately. Not being one to waste food I began making peach salsa, peach ice cream and peach sorbet. We next filled my refrigerator crisper drawers with peaches that were ready to be held cool until we used them. 

     The next morning as if by magic the sea of relatively hard peaches covering my dining room were getting soft and ripe. This was Tuesday and we still had five days till canning. Nancy has a second refrigerator and an early morning emergency peach call went out. With a car full of peaches I arrived at Nancy’s and laughed right along with her as we emptied her laundry room fridge to make room for even more peaches then she could have imagined. 

     We must have done the right thing because we lost relatively few peaches in the five days we had to wait till canning day. 

 The plan was for Nancy, Tamara and I to meet early, begin the processing and later be joined by the guys who would BBQ lunch and later we would all relax in the late afternoon.

When the three of us arrived in Nancy’s kitchen we very quickly had to develop a game plan to approach this project. Nancy is the only one of us who had any real canning experience. We loved listening to her relate fond memories of working on the canning processes with her mother and grandmother and although it had been years, the basic principles had stayed with her giving us a rough framework of how to approach the day. We chose Nancy’s kitchen because the size and layout we knew would work beautifully for this project. A long granite island sits at the center of her kitchen and it is designed so that two people can stir pots at the stove top from opposite sides of the island.

We decided to work on the slices first and fell in to a rhythm of peach peeling and slicing, bottle sterilization and simple syrup creation. When we had filled quite a few jars and freezer bags we switched to preserve making where the peaches are diced added to the lemon, sugar and eventually pectin is put into the mix and it is finally jarred and reprocessed. 

All this time the peach peels had been carefully placed in stock pots with a bit of water to simmer and simmer away till we were left with and intoxicating peach slurry of sorts, cooked and rendered till the smell that rose from the pot became
Intense and delightful. This is just about when the guys arrived. Immediately we had a league of helpers.  Nancy’s beau David brought his daughters along and all three of them without hesitation jumped into the prep work  tirelessly helping peel and section the peaches that seemed never to end. My husband John had grown up with a family that canned often and he joined right in to help too. Tamara’s husband Steven manned the grill and soon we could smell chicken and ribs on the grill snapping us in to the realization that we had been so consumed by peach production. That we had not eaten.
The kitchen was a flurry of activity. Peach skin slurry was being sieved through a colander to render the pure clean nectar for the jelly. Jars and lids were being sterilized, jam was cooking on the stove husbands were hand feeding wives as they continues to stir their pots of peachy goodness.  There were peaches, ever more peaches peeled and sectioned one after the other in a seemingly endless succession. Without the help of the entire tribe we never would have achieved our vision. We were a party of eight all working in sync cleaning cooking laughing sharing old memories and creating new ones.

The feeling in the air was one of old-fashioned hominess, camaraderie and love, all to rare in our lives today. We set out to preserve peaches that day but I think we preserved a whole lot more. I feel we brought back to light a bit of the past,  exploring the roots of the activities that built communities and united us as a nation. We thought of the women generations before us for whom this was the way you fed your family and in many cases the only way it got done. We thought of David’s daughters now learning skills they might someday pass on to their own children. Would they be remembering stories about this day and sharing them in a crowded kitchen in years to come?

I hope they will remember and share this day. I love to think that somehow our day of peach canning will be woven into a tapestry with threads from the past and the future, blending together, and continuing a history that we can be proud of, one that can warm our souls and that can bring us together. 

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