A long time ago, I lived in Brooklyn, NY. I was a Young, Urban, Professional seeking to live a Yuppie lifestyle. There was only one problem, my soul was craving something different. That part of me showed herself with little herb gardens in pots on fire-escapes. One year I grew tomatoes in pots on the roof of my apartment building. This went on and on, shopping in farmer’s markets and getting fresher fruits and veggies than I got at the local Korean fruit stand.
About that time, ‘things’ started to happen.
I discovered herb infused vinegar and decided to try my hand at it. So I bought some wine vinegar, heated it, infused a batch with basil and garlic; infused another batch with dill. Totally amazing (and my husband-at-the-time thought it was nuts, but loved the product). I loved the product too, but more than that, I loved the process.
So vinegar making led to buying fresh tomatoes at the market and making pasta sauce at the peak of freshness and freezing it in my tiny above-the-fridge freezer. I would stockpile as many containers of sauce as I could and mourn when the fresh taste of summer led to the use of canned tomatoes or jarred sauce.
One year, my friend Phyllis shared with me a prized holiday gift — a jar of home canned peaches given to her by her friend Laura. I had yet to meet Laura at this point, but she later went on to become one of my closest friends. But I digress. Back to the peaches.
The way I had grown up, cooked peaches were something you ate in the summer when they were fresh — my mother would cook fruit that was just on the edge of being over-ripe — or the nasty stuff in extra heavy syrup that came out of cans (which I’ll admit that I enjoyed despite the tinny taste). But when Phyllis cracked open that jar of summer goodness in the middle of February, it was as if the sun broke through the winter gloom and shone for us, just for a little while.
Time passed and life intervened. I moved a couple of times, divorced husband number one, met (but not yet married) husband number two, and I eventually moved to the part of the world where Laura lived. I was in canning country!! I also ended up, through careful planning interrupted by a life intervention, with a garden planted to feed 4 people – but with only two people to eat it. What do you when you plant enough cucumbers for salads for 4 people and you have a bumper crop? Make Pickles!!
I have a crock of pickles sitting in my kitchen as we speak. They will be ready to can next weekend.
That was the summer I learned to can my own food, and I was instantly addicted. I think I have put up at least something in jars, regardless of what life had thrown at me, since the summer of 2001. Tomatoes, pickles, jams, etc.
Filling my pantry with food I’ve preserved (if not grown in my own garden), satisfies, for me, a primal need. I look at my filled pantry shelves, the jars all bright and gleaming (and I think smiling because they’re full), and it fills me with both pride and security.
This is a really long introduction to what has turned out to be the major activity of this weekend. Despite the fact that I had a splendiferous birthday (jammed from beginning to end with wonderful things – that will be its own post later in the week…I promise), a drive to our favorite peach orchard, Golden Harvest Orchards, on Friday, netted us 3/4 of a bushel of peaches. Which is a lot of peaches.
Yesterday, we took all the peaches that were going over-ripe and blanched them, skinned them, cooked them with sugar and spices until they formed 19 jars of Spiced Peach Jam, and canned them.
Today we’ll check the seals on all the jars we did yesterday, label and date them, and put them away.
Today we will be making Peach Chutney (this is a new recipe for us) to use as a condiment.
I’d hoped to have peaches to slice and can and turn into wonderful jars of sunshine for the middle of the winter but, alas, the peaches I got weren’t up to that level of snuff and while there may be another orchard run later this week, that hope might be like my hope for the New York Mets…maybe next year.