Thursday, August 19, 2010


Peaches and our Mothers

Peeling fresh peaches. They’ve been exceptional this summer. I say this as one who lived thirty years in Georgia and never had a good peach there, except one basketful I bought in the mountains. But here, in New York, the peaches come from Pennsylvania, ripe from the tree, not picked green. They arrive in stores in August or late July, glorious in their fuzzy skins, colored from deep dried blood red to pale yellow. In the past I have made jam, but, unlike strawberry jam, peach doesn’t hold its flavor. I think I should freeze some, though, for winter. My mother would have canned them.
At least until reliable canned peaches appeared on the market, women canned their own.<> And even after. Early cans were made of tin and people worried about the food. We had jars of canned peaches and green beans lined up in the fruit cellar(later a catch-all place) when I was small. My mother didn’t do tomatoes. Butulism, she said Obviously she was confused in some way. When I was older commercially canned peaches were what we got in winter. Freestone peaches in thick, gooey syrup. They were sweet. Not peachy. Sweet. Okay, sugar is a good preservative. The peaches it preserved were only passable and the syrup didn’t help. Drained and set on a lettuce leaf with a blob of cottage cheese, they passed for salad. I think I liked it, actually, being one of two children in the history of the world who liked cottage cheese. But more often it was a pear half on the lettuce. A canned pear half. And by mid-winter in upstate New York, almost anything that looks or tastes like summer is good enough. Still the wonder and convenience of commercially canned food was more than my mother’s generation could resist. They didn’t entirely trust it, but they did consume it, grateful to be freed from the work. I think of that at the end of the summer, when I never want to see another tomato, but the freezer is stocked with little cubes of paste and sauce full of summer. And I swear not to plant tomatoes ever again. Of course I do, because by the end of winter the sauces is gone and the seed catalogs have filled the mailbox.
But this morning, peeling ripe peaches, their fragrance all over the kitchen, juice running down my hands, I thought about commercially canned peaches. We never have them. We try to eat seasonally. We aren’t real foodies, more like chow hounds--a little less fussy perhaps, but we eat fast food. But seriously, canned peaches? Nope I’d rather go all winter with out them, pig out in summer when they are fresh and ripe, eat them until I can’t face another one and move on to apples, next fruit to ripen here. I might freeze some, for peach upside down cake (Moosewood Desserts has a killer recipe), but I am content to anticipate, to think in winter of the peach as a color or a fragrance, to dream of fuzzy, warm deliciousness. Virtue. Eating locally. All that is good, but hedonism drives my virtue here. No peach from a can or a freezer EVER tastes like those of late summer.

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