Growing up summers at Grandma’s house, the basement had these great narrow shelves covered with jars of canned fruits and vegetables. I didn’t like the look of the tomatoes, but I loved the peaches. And those jars packed with mixed types of pickled vegetables, like a cornicopia in vinegar.
When we were early women, we decided it was time to learn to can. Everyone else calls it “setting up” but we called it canning. Each year, we made the trek to Pennsylvania and drove Grandma to the farmers market to pick up bushels of fresh picked peaches and tomatoes. The ones you want for canning are the ugly ones that stayed on the tree or stem as long as possible. I’ve often thought of the experience of standing in Grandma’s kitchen, peeling, stuffing, cooking and measuring till our fingers were pruned and our feet were sore– as a very womanly experience. It felt like taking my place in a lineage, an unbreakable continuum of women that spanned generations and generations.
I realize it was also a womanly experience in its sensuousness.
Here is how you can peaches.
Plunge the firm, ripe as possible fuzzy fleshy peach into scalding water and let it bathe a bit.
When it is just right, you can reach in, and gently peel off the skin without needing a peeler at all. Somehow the heat and moisture of the bath convinces the peach that all this clothing is just not necessary, and it just gently acquiesces to being stripped naked.
Now, you gently split to find the secret hard pit inside. If you are skilled, you can make a clean split and gently remove the pit with a single knife pry, but it usually slips between your fingers and requires additional handling, making the flesh softer and fuller.
Slice and slip into a waiting sterilized mason jar.
Continue until the jar is almost full. You have to gently persuade the waiting peach slices to move into each other and make a little more room to fit as many in the jar as possible.
It smells outstanding, and the desire to put one in the jar and then one in your mouth is hard to resist.
When the jar is full, you add sugar, and depending on how wet the year was, some or more hot water.
The jar is topped and put in the boiler for 10 minutes.
In there, the peaches ripen and soften into that amazingly firm, squishy, texture, and the exotic color, which is, in fact, their natural color. They blush in the heat, amid the slippery sugar and sweet presence of each other.