“Can you go to the basement and get a jar of peaches for dinner?” my mother asked me a thousand different childhood nights while she finished cooking dinner.
Canned peaches. If you are imagining the sadness that schleps out of tin cans bought from the grocery store, erase that image from your mind right there. These are not those.
Home-canned peaches are divine. They are sweet jewels that kids fight over, truly a dessert without any help from ice cream or pastry. As a child I dared myself into our basement for them; that’s how good they are.
I’m sure dirt basements exist outside of Michigan, but that’s what we call them here: a Michigan basement. It is one step down from “unfinished”, a dirt floor with crumbly plaster walls and a close ceiling. It is where our Dr. Seussian steel furnace grumbled and inhaled wood by the truckload on the far end of the room. Not spooky, exactly, just not a place you want to hang out.
With my mother’s nightly request I slid my feet into my father’s too-big slippers that were reliably parked by the basement door and I scampered down the stairs. Trapped between the furnace and the steps was the pantry: a cool, dark little side room perfect for storing canned goods. I stepped up into the black cave, waving my hand in the air to feel for the string that pulled on the light, and willed my imagination not to think of the salamanders and spiders and other Things that might be watching me. Once the light was on I breathed again and went in for the loot.
There was the treasure hunt.
First the peaches. Sometimes I picked pears too, or gathered the shopping list of tomatoes and pickles and beets my mother often ordered. I liked to poke around and inspect the lost and forgotten jars: plums in murky sediment, jam with that weird wax seal, the apple juice nobody liked. Experiments left behind.
Satisfied, I carried as much loot away as I could hold. And I never, ever forgot the peaches. Nobody wants to get sent back to the basement for forgotten treasure.
Peach Tips on Pits:
A few tips on buying and ripening peaches:
First, if you are canning ask for “freestone” peaches. They come away from the pit easily. Red Havens are the most common, but new varieties are out there. Cling types, whose flesh sticks to the pit, are wonderful for eating but a pain to pit—don’t try to can those or you will come away cursing like a sailor.
Second, know that peaches don’t keep. If they are perfectly ripe when you buy them, can them that day or early the next. If they are hard baseballs, go to step 3 and wait a few days.
Third, To ripen peaches at home, lay them out on a cool floor on an old sheet. Do not leave them in the bag or basket; the bottom ones will be ruined as they ripen. Check morning and night to gauge ripeness.
Will you be canning peaches this year? Any questions or fears out there?