Back in August, three generations of my family visited a local U-pick orchard to harvest peaches for canning. At that time of year, aptly named Sugarplum Acres hosts a swarm of pickers among its rows of heavily laden trees, the fruit so low and dense on the limbs one needn’t move or climb a ladder to fill a bucket or box.
While my two grandsons, ages 5 and 2, proved enthusiastic, their contributions sometimes tended to the hard and green, but together with their parents and my husband and me, we managed to gather 130 pounds of peaches in about 30 minutes. As we sat in a long line of cars to pay for our booty, the owner encouraged us to grab a few more peaches from a tree to enjoy while we waited. I was instantly transported back to my childhood, when my siblings and I would pluck warm, plump fruit directly from the trees in our large garden and sink our teeth into the sweet flesh, sticky juice running down our chins and arms.
Later in my kitchen, surrounded by quart jars and wreathed in steam from the canner, I again traveled back in time, this time to our kitchen where my mother performed the same ritual of peeling and halving peaches, packing them into hot jars, covering them with simple syrup and processing them. As then, I eagerly waited to hear the quiet “ping” from each jar lifted from the boiling water bath, signaling a successful seal. The rows of gleaming jars, golden fruit suspended enticingly inside, made all the work worthwhile and promised a welcome taste of summer some future gray winter day.
This time of year, when tomatoes grow red and heavy on the vine, string beans hide in clusters under their leaves and summer squash keeps challenging one to find some other way to use them, always tugs me back to the past. My large family of seven kids relied heavily on our large vegetable garden (which also boasted several varieties of fruit trees) to keep us fed on a budget. As soon as we could accurately determine a ripe raspberry or blueberry, each morning we were expected to pick the day’s bounty. Even when I was only 8 or 9, I was recruited to help with the canning or freezing of the latest batch of produce, cutting off the ends of beans, slicing juicy kernels of corn off the cob, chopping up rhubarb or apples for sauce.
One of my favorite rites of harvest, though, didn’t involve the ordered rows of our well-tilled garden. No, once the arching canes of wild blackberries edging open fields became laden with shiny black fruit, we would swarm over them, returning home with scratched limbs and purple-stained fingers and lips. There Granny would perform her magic, mixing them with sugar and folding them into her famous pie crust, crimping the edges and wrapping them with milk-soaked strips of old bedsheets to prevent them from over-browning.
Just the other day, my daughter told me she had picked blackberries from bushes that ring the playground of my grandson’s school. It made my heart glad to realize I could continue a family tradition with my grandchildren. One day soon they’ll be bringing me baskets of berries, their grins wreathed in purple juice, and I will make them a pie, their Granny using her granny’s recipe to create new/old memories for us all.
— Patty Vanikiotis, associate editor/copy editor
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