Canning Peaches with my Grandmother
Updated: May 1, 2020
Her name was Mabel and she was the perfect grandmother. She was a plump soft woman and when she gave me a hug, it was so comforting. She always wore a dress, handmade apron, and what we called “old lady black library shoes!” Her grey hair was always up in a grandmotherly bun. We called her Nanny, don’t know why, but I always loved to visit her on her small southern Wisconsin farm when I was a child. As was typical back then, she grew a huge garden, had a fruit orchard, and baked and #canned all year round. Life was so much simpler then.
My first farm memories are from the 1950s when I was 7 and my two brothers were 4 and 3. We really looked forward to the Sundays and summers we spent there. Our family would load into the old grey Plymouth sedan for the hour ride north. Leaving Chicago for the country was a true breath of fresh air for me, especially during the hot summers of Chicago.
Nanny taught me how to can peaches. It was a long process beginning with picking the ripe juicy peaches from the orchard. There was an orchard ladder, wide at the bottom and narrow at the top so it could reach into the branches while we stood on it picking. Back then we used wicker baskets to gather the fruit. No plastic…I don’t remember anything of plastic during those times.
Next came washing the peaches, then dipping them into scalding hot water on the propane stove to loosen the skins. Back into an ice water bath where we slipped off the loose skins. We would then slice away, removing the pit as we went. If a peach was perfect and firm, we saved it for canning whole spiced peaches, my favorite!
Ball canning jars of blue glass were washed, dipped in hot water to sterilize, filled to the brim with peaches, a sugar syrup added, metal lids and rings put on, and then put into the canning kettle which held both pints and quarts in a wire rack. Nanny knew just how long to cook them for. When it was time, she would take her special tongs and lift each hot jar to the counter to cool.
We’d know they were sealed when the top would pop and the vacuum created sucked in the lid. Off came the rings to be used on the next batch. Did you know the blue Ball jars were made from the sand around Lake Michigan giving them the blue color? They stopped making them in 1935 but Nanny had a whole pantry full from earlier times.
I remember this took most of the day. The kitchen was hot. I got tired. But we all would celebrate with ice-cold fresh lemonade when we were done. The expectation of future family dinners which might include sliced peaches and cottage cheese salad, spiced peaches with roast beef, or peach cobbler for dessert would remain visions in my head until we returned.
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