Seasoned with oregano and thyme, Jim Long cans peaches as a child.
"Miller moths!” I heard my mother shout with disgust. She peered into a spice can and quickly replaced the lid. Mother was making a cake and had just discovered her spice cabinets were “lousy with those pesky bugs.”
After lunch, I saw a grocery bag filled with all the spice jars and tins from Mother’s cabinet sitting outdoors by the trash. “May I have these?” I asked.
She gave them to me for my play grocery store but told me not to bring any of them inside for any reason.
Betty, the only other child my age in our little town, and I played together nearly every day. Next door to our house was an abandoned house, once home to an elderly lady who had died. Her furniture had been removed, but outside, under the shade of an old peach tree, sat her big, cast-iron wood cookstove. The stove was a remarkable thing to my 6-year-old eyes. It was a marbled sky blue, which was, and still is, my favorite color. It had a double lower oven, an overhead warming oven and six burners with iron lids. There were also little storage drawers for kitchen utensils, along with a side tank for hot water storage.
When Betty showed up to play in the afternoon, I showed her my treasure of spices. We opened the lids of each can, bottle and jar. Innocent-looking gray moths flew out, fanning us with the fragrant, spicy smells. There was oregano, thyme, allspice, ginger, cloves, garlic, nutmeg and turmeric. We not only smelled each spice, we tasted several of them, too.
Putting the big grocery bag of spices into my little wagon, we pulled it across the alley and into the neighbor’s weedy yard. We lined up our spices in rows in the overhead warming oven of the stove.
“What should we make with these?” Betty asked in complete seriousness. I looked around, searching for an idea. Just then, a green peach fell on the stovetop in front of us, hitting a cast-iron lid with a loud thunk.
“Let’s can peaches!” I said excitedly.
We’d each watched our mothers scald peaches in hot water, remove the peels and pits, and pack the peaches into jars before sealing them.
We began pulling the green, fuzzy, golf ball sized peaches from all the low hanging limbs we could reach. They weren’t ripe, but we didn’t care. It was our kitchen, our spices, and we were going to can peaches.
Our next hurdle was our need for jars. What would we can the peaches in? Searching around in the old chicken house behind the peach tree, we found a wooden crate filled with empty canning jars. Another box revealed ceramic-lined zinc lids. We carried some of them to the old stove.
Over the following days, we stuffed the hard, green peaches into jars. We carried bottles of water and filled each jar to the top. Then we added “just a smidgen” of spices — a phrase Betty heard her mother use.
Then we screwed the lids on as tight as our little hands could tighten them. In a few days we had “canned” a dozen quart jars of the lime-green peaches. They looked wonderful. The summer sun soon caused them to ferment, and the water oozed and sizzled around the lids.
One afternoon, Betty and I decided it was time to show off our work. We excitedly showed my mother our kitchen under the old tree, where she had watched us from her kitchen window each day as we played. Then we pointed out our jars of canned peaches.
My mother looked amazed. She seemed truly impressed, or horrified — to this day I’m not sure which. She complimented us on our handiwork and on how fresh our peaches looked. She soon realized we had no desire to eat them, only to make them look good and line them up on the stove.
Within days, Betty and I were throwing fresh green peaches at each other in a mock battle, and the canned peaches were forgotten. But each spring, when I clean out my spice cabinet, the smell returns me to those days in the sun, with jars of little green peaches and a good friend named Betty.
Jim Long writes from his home in the Ozark Mountains. See his gardens or make comments at www.Longcreekherbs.com.
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