This last week I stopped at the stand of a local fruit, pumpkin, and gourd grower on the highway just outside of Bridgehampton. I bought peaches! They are my favorite fruit and the peaches from this stand are the best in this area, in my opinion. There were doughnut peaches—I never understood these peaches—and white and yellow peaches. My grandmother liked white ones (they tasted like the yellow ones to me); and my mother liked the yellow ones. I do, too.
When I was a girl, the arrival of Colorado peaches at the store was a cause of excitement and preparation for immediate business in the kitchen. Peaches are not produced in Nebraska, and Colorado was the closest place of production. Peaches “go bad” in a matter of days, so the peach canning setup was installed in the kitchen as soon as possible. The bushel of peaches was set in just the right spot for easy access to the sink and stove. Then the accumulation of the equipment began: the special colander to wash the peaches (I still have this one) and the other special colander to dunk them into the special pot for boiling water that was just the right size to accommodate easy removal of hot peaches; the special rectangular pan in which the jars were sterilized upside down in boiling water; and the huge canner pot to boil the jars to seal them.
First, they were washed, then placed just the right way into the dunking colander and then into the boiling water until the skins loosened. Just as that happened, they were passed to the youngest member of the team (me) for peeling, which was easy as the skins just slipped off. Then mom removed the bruised spots to make into peach jam later. She then cut them and passed them to grandma who placed them just right in the canning jars and capped them with lids that had new insets (only the rings could be used again) that had been sitting in a pot of water just hot enough to sterilize them but not so hot that it melted the rubber; next in to the “boiler” to seal the jars.
After a time that grandma determined to be enough (mom knew this time allotment also but grandma was respectfully given this important the task when she was there), the jars were removed with the special jar-removing tongs. The jars were set on towels on the counter until the lids pinged indicating that they were sealed. The jars sitting on the counter promised delicious remembrances of summer during the winter. When they were cool, it again fell to the youngest member of the crew to take them to the “fruit room,” a small area under the stairs in the basement where canned produce was stored and put them into just the right place.
Grandma, of course, got a share of the results of this work. Then mom made the jam from the bruises. This has to be done immediately, as they will not keep long at all. There is nothing like homemade peach jam on hot toast! These jars went into the fruit room in the jam department with strawberry jam and tomato marmalade…a receipt of grandma’s that we thought was very special, it being a jam made from a vegetable (we didn’t know yet that tomatoes are a fruit).
In that fruit room were many other jars of food that had been “put up” during the summer—potatoes, onions and sweet potatoes. My parents had a huge vegetable garden. Dad grew the vegetables, while mom and “the girls”—usually my mother and I, as my three younger sisters were too young for the hot work…did the processing. They were allowed the less dangerous tasks of production, like shelling peas, snapping beans, pulling carrots and radishes and shucking corn.
My summers as a young girl were occupied with food storage of many kinds of food and the different methods needed for each. Because our family circumstances changed about the time I became a “tween,” I benefited more than my sisters. I am the oldest, and am very grateful to have these experiences and this knowledge.
Jeanelle Myers is a professional gardener, landscaper and consultant. For gardening discussion you can call her at 631-434-5067.