On the farm, while the men are outside baling up hay for the livestocks’ winter provisions during the summer months, women folk during my childhood could be found inside putting up provisions for the family. It was our way of life. It was so much more.
It’s a sentimental thing for me to get real excited every year when I see those Fresh Peaches signs. I just bought a small basket at The Home Place this week. “ They are from North Carolina,” the man outside with his produce sign lovely displayed said. I picked one up and breathed deep the delightful aroma of the fruit. And that’s when, like every year, that memory resurfaced again of peaches in the farmhouse of my youth. Even if I wanted, I would never be able to forget my first introduction to a bushel basket of peaches, worth sharing once again.
It was 1969, or there about––when Mom came in the farmhouse and plunked a bushel basket of peaches down on the kitchen floor. Sister and I immediately grabbed one, bit into it and giggled trying to slurp its juice running down our chins. Then I got serious, “Why did you buy so many?” I asked. “Because, we are going to can these.” Soon sister and I found out what a tedious, tenacious, all-day task it was.
On that warmest day of the summer no doubt the temperature was probably 100 degrees, no kidding. And with the boiling pots of water, the humidity was high enough that we worried as mother and her sister Sue made fun that the wallpaper just might peel off the walls. But under Mom’s leadership and her Ball Blue Book canning directions, we got after this task like busy beavers and soon learned how to can peaches.
Our Aunt Sue lived next door and came to help us. She was witty and fun like mother and we loved having her there to help. The four of us formed an assembly line with designated jobs. Wash, scald, and chill the peaches quickly in ice water to remove the skins easily. (I later learned the same for tomatoes.) Mom demonstrated us how easy it was. “Girls, go to the smoke house and bring in the wicker basket of canning jars and start washing them.” So we did. Mom inspected each one. “If there is any dirt or bacteria, you risk spoilage or botulism which can be deadly.” So with that fright, I scrubbed the jars extra good. We prided ourselves on her not finding a speck of dirt on any of them.
Finally, it was time to fill the jars first with warm peach halves and then ladle a hot, sweet, sugary syrup over them, filling each jar to the shoulder. Mother then inserted a butter knife inside the jar to remove air pockets and coat the peach halves real good.
Sister Debbie and I had now been put onto our new job and we formed an assembly line of putting the lids on. First, the lids were sterilized, and then removed with tongs from the boiling water pot. “Wipe the jar rim before you put on the insert, otherwise it might not seal,” which we did and then I placed the ring on top and screwed it down. Sue tightened them down even more and placed each jar in the metal canning rack. It held seven quarts. Mother then gently lowered the rack into the hot pressure canner a Sears & Roebuck Maid of Honor model. She then cranked down the lid so it could build pressure. We watched the gauge for the correctly achieved pressure and then set the stove top timer.
Before supper, we had oodles of quart jars of canned peaches to show for our hard work. Whew. It took a long time, but in the end it was a pretty picture. And in the winter months we would enjoy them so much more. Soon we girls learned to do green beans this way too.
And the best remembrance that always pops up in my head of those farmhouse-canning days is the sound we heard “pop, pop, pop” of the lids as they sealed. And when we heard it, someone would hurry to call out, “There went another one!” The popping sound was very gratifying in deed.
Scurrying back to my farmhouse, after my peach purchase, like a kid again, I grabbed one up, pushed it to my mouth and as the juice started to run down my chin, I slurped like I did as a kid and breathed its luscious, fruity fragrance at the same time… remembering Debbie… sad she isn’t with us anymore. Ugh! At that moment, once more, I realized I am richer for having experienced that day of canning peaches in the farmhouse kitchen of my youth with my family. And for a moment, Debbie and I were together once again… in the farmhouse kitchen of my youth in my mind. I felt her presence, though she is gone. I am sure she shared that moment with me. And with that…I gave thanks for the memory.
Sherry is a regular contributor to The Brown County Press newspaper, Mt. Orab, Ohio. She and her husband own Cherry Ridge Farms, near Georgetown. Her inspiring stories are sprinkled with Peace, Love, Joy. You can follow her blog at www.sherryphillipsmitchell.com or her Facebook page at My Farmhouse Journal: Memories and Recipes the name for her recently published book now available on Amazon.