Canning peaches


Certain opportunities give us a chance to step into our parents’ shoes and experience appreciation in a whole new way. My latest opportunity came as I stood face-to-face with 24 boxes of freshly picked peaches and pears waiting to be canned.

I had gone to my parents’ home for my cousin Melva’s funeral earlier this month and saw the peaches and pears in my mother’s basement. Without a shred of experience, I had wonderfully optimistic hopes of canning all that fruit so my mother wouldn’t have to.

At 40 years of age, I had somehow managed to miss any opportunity to help her with the annual ritual of bottling the fruit to store for the winter. I asked her how I missed out on helping her all these years and we finally realized that I was always outside instead – moving cows, farming or participating in school activities.

Canning time coincides with one of the busiest times of the year at the ranch. So while the rest of us were moving cattle, mom was downstairs canning all by herself. Every year, she has bottled more than 200 quarts of peaches and more than 80 quarts of pears, but often, it wasn’t enough to get us through to next canning season. Since fresh fruit is hard to come by on our rural ranch, hot meals at lunchtime for all the family and the ranch hands is always crowned with bottled peaches or pears for dessert accompanied by a cookie or piece of cake or pie.

But this year, I thought I would give her the gift of skipping this laborious chore. So I set myself up in her makeshift kitchen in the basement in a routine that is best described by the word, “precarious.” Not all of the burners work on her stove, so I set up some hot plates on rickety old TV dinner trays and found enough cords to connect to various electrical outlets so I wouldn’t blow a fuse – such are the challenges of living in an older ranch house. The large canner set on two stove burners while the saucepan for warming lids barely fit. I had sugar water heating and I was peeling and pitting peaches as fast as I could. I also couldn’t believe all the time required for preparatory chores like cleaning all the bottles and sanitizing all the lids and rings.

I have to admit, it was a lonely job and several times, I caught myself thinking grateful thoughts for my mother’s dedication to this chore of provident living.

After 10 hours of fast and furious work, I was disheartened to realize I had only made it though 7-and-a-half boxes of peaches. I was disappointed that my dent was so small, but my mom was of course, very grateful.

When it was all said and done, mom sent me a picture of her storage shelves proudly displaying the colorful jars – 207 peaches and 81 quarts of pears. It’s an amazing task that I doubt I’ll ever be able to match. But I’m grateful that I finally gave it a try and learned a few skills in the process.