It’s time for a history lesson regarding my side of the family – from my perspective (that’s the disclaimer in case any of my extended family reads this blog!)
My mother, and I love her dearly, has the same affection for cooking that I do – it’s nonexistent! As kids, we used to tease her about having a very close relationship with Betty Crocker. She bought all her prepackaged food items. We ate a lot of Hamburger Helper – a marvelous invention, according to my mom. There were 4 of us kids, 2 girls then 2 boys. Volume was more important than quality because there were always extra kids at the dinner table.
I also didn’t grow up near relatives. We always seemed to be a few states away. Therefore, I never learned the typical “Grandma hand-me-downs” like food preservation. Although, I’m not sure how much food preservation my Grandma did either!
So, canning and pressure cooking were a great unknown to me. I was intrigued by the process of putting up food for the winter and began to explore this new territory. I had a friend who always canned peaches each year in Seattle and I asked her how it was done. She gave me the overview and I purchased a Ball Canning book and a canner.
My second child was born July 5 and that’s also the month that peaches came into season. Not to be slowed down by a new baby, after all the pioneer women weren’t, I forged ahead and bought A LOT of peaches. I planned out the day and the preparation necessary.
Everything in place in the kitchen, put Catherine down for a nap, nurse Lauren and tuck her into the blanket on the floor in the kitchen, and in no time I should have all my new canning jars filled with the beautiful, peachy glow of canned peaches. I had wonderful visions in my head of how this would all look lined up on the shelf.
Okay, here’s the reality…
The kids were great and followed the schedule. However, the peaches did not! I started into the box, hand peeling each peach. By the time I was ready to fill the jars with the syrup, the liquid had cooled and I had to heat it all over again. My friend said getting the peaches ready for the jars was fast, painless, a joy, so fulfilling…I was experiencing nothing of this. It was taking me forever and Catherine’s nap time was almost over and Lauren was beginning to stir for another feeding. For anyone who’s canned peaches, you understand how hard it is to find a place to stop during the whole process. The peaches begin to turn a nasty shade of brown, then the syrup cools and everything is so sticky that it’s best to keep going to avoid all the extra clean up.
After a couple of hours, I’d only made a small dent in the boxes of peaches I’d purchased. I just knew as soon as Catherine (2 years old), saw what I was doing, she was going to want to “help” and I wasn’t confident enough in my canning skills to allow that this time. A small panic began to swell and I peeled even faster, hoping and praying today would be the day my two girls would sleep longer.
I’d finally filled enough jars to put into the canner. I set the timer and was furiously working on the second set of jars…juice running down my arms, peels stuck all over the sink and surrounding area, sticky syrup dribbled on the counter and equipment and me. But I was into a rhythm and then the unthinkable happened…
Nope, the girls who were both up by now, were being angels and Catherine was “taking care of baby.” Nope, no one knocked at my door. In July, on a calm summer day, the electricity went out!!! Unbelievable! I would never get these stupid peaches finished! By now, all the glamour and nostalgia of putting up my own food was gone. I was in the middle of a huge mess with a toddler and a newborn, the canner was close to being finished with my first batch of jars and now, no electricity. How do you figure processing time with a power outage in the middle?!
So, with that homesteading spirit, I did what any woman in my position would do….you thought I was going to say cry didn’t you!
Nope, I just kept going and finished filling the rest of the jars. Eventually, the power came back on and I completed the task of canning all those peaches. There was a great sense of satisfaction seeing all those jars lined up on the shelf after the kitchen was cleaned and everything put back in order. This had been a lot of work… more than I had anticipated.
The kicker of this story is, I went to my friend a few days later after I’d had a chance to recoup from this peach ordeal and told her my whole experience. I explained how I had carefully peeled each peach. It was here that she looked at me funny. I said, “What?”
“You mean to tell me you hand peeled each peach?”
“Yes, you told me I needed to take off the skins before I put them in the jars.”
“Well, yes, but didn’t you put them in hot water first?”
“Noooo, does that make a difference?”
For those of you who can peaches, you’re smiling now and shaking your head and possibly feeling a little bit of sympathy for me and my ignorance. For those who have never canned peaches, let me give you this little tidbit of advice before you attempt to can peaches. It will save you hours of work. If you heat a pot of water to almost boiling and put your peaches in the water for a minute or less, then take the peaches and put them in cold water, the skins practically fall off! It’s fast and easy… and fun 🙂 (My kids now love this part of doing peaches.)
And I ask you, if you wouldn’t mind, to share any canning wisdom/experiences to help those who are venturing into this aspect of homesteading. Secretly, I’m hoping there are more tips out there that I don’t know yet! Oft times, experience is more valuable than book learning 🙂