I canned peaches today and memories of my Mother filled my kitchen. Memories evoked, I am sure, by the feel of the fuzzy fruit, the steam from the canner of boiling water, the sights and smells and the awful mess I made. I don’t like heat, but somehow it was okay today, as I remembered those long-ago August days when God gave me precious time with my mother as she created her art.
Where I grew up in Steamboat, late August meant a trip for one of my parents, or at least some trusted relative, to what they called the “low country”, or the Palisade-Grand Junction area. I never got to go, but was told they sometimes picked this beautiful fruit right off the trees. Whether they picked or purchased from the orchards, they came home with bushels and bushels of peaches.
I think I was probably 10 or so before I was allowed to help with the canning process. I had to stand on a stool to peel the fruit which was lifted from boiling water into a colander then into a large dishpan. I remember Mom showing me how to loosen the peel and pull it off in strips so the peach remained smooth. (If you used your nails to loosen a stubborn piece of peeling you were reprimanded for “ruining” the beauty of the peach.) Mom made a huge pan of syrup and after we put the peaches in the freshly scalded jars she would pour the syrup over and show me how to run a knife along the inside so there would be more room and the peaches wouldn’t “float” in the jar.
We canned them in quart jars and stored them on the shelves in the root cellar. They became a special treat that was associated with a wonderful social tradition. Many a winter night, we piled into an ice-cold car, and snuggled under quilts in the back seat while Daddy drove through the snow to a neighbor’s or a relative’s for the evening. Back then you didn’t need to make an appointment to go “visiting”. You just showed up and if they weren’t home or were already in bed, you just picked another neighbor. The evening of card-playing and music was topped off with a special treat which, for some reason, the hostess called “lunch” It always consisted of a jar of canned peaches, accompanied by either a loaf of home made bread or chocolate cake. To this day I can’t eat that combination without hearing my uncle, my dad and my cousins singing old cowboy songs or having yodeling contests.
I look at my short row of pint jars of peaches and am filled with longing to hear my Mother say proudly, “My, aren’t the peaches especially pretty this year?”