Memories of Perfect Canned Peaches

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“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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