Traditions, Rituals and Returning Home

“Peaches come from a can,” photo by bcostin, used with permission under a creative commons license.

Tomorrow I’m headed to our local farmers market to pick up a box of peaches. About 25 pounds worth. With any luck, all those peaches will get blanched, cooled, the skins slipped off, the pits removed, the fruit sliced, and put up in glass jars in a light sugar syrup.

I didn’t grow up preserving food or eating locally. I remember wonder-bread and Captain Crunch. Cans meant aluminum cans of terribly mushy green beans, cooked into submission. I’m not exactly sure how and when it happened (and it perplexes my family), but in my adult life, I’ve moved to eating next to no processed foods, having farm shares for vegetables, meat, and winter roots, and putting up for winter eating.

When I started canning, our friend, Gabrielle, gave us the canning jars her grandmother had used for decades. We moved those jars from the apartment in Philadelphia we rented when we first got married to Chicago where we only lived for one year, to Massachusetts where we’ve lived for the past 21. Some years, we would only end up using a handful of those canning jars, other years, we’d fill shelves with tomatoes, peaches, apple sauce, jellies and jams.

There was something magical about the connection with food, with nurturing, with the earth, and across the generations in using Gab’s grandmother’s jars.

The summer of 2010 gave us an especially bountiful harvest. Every week, I’d walk out of the farmers market with another box full of seconds peaches and spend the next few days swearing over the sticky mess, swearing I’d never do it again. Until the next week. I must have canned 30 quarts of peaches that year.

A few months later, we lost much of our house to a terrible fire that started in the basement. Firefighters had to get behind our storage shelves to reach the source of the fire, smashing our canning jars. Later, in the cleanup, we discovered intact jars of peaches in another shelf in the back corner of the basement. They had survived, but we couldn’t risk eating them. Because of the extreme temperature changes they underwent in the fire, there was a chance that the seals had popped and reset, giving bacteria a chance to grow undetected in the food.

Of all the things we lost, I think the peaches hit me hardest.

We weren’t able to move back into our home until the middle of August last year, almost exactly a year ago, today. While peach season was in full swing, we hadn’t yet had a chance to replace our canning jars and equipment. By the time we were ready, peaches had come and gone.

This year, we’re ready. In a few days, we will have a pantry shelf stacked with jars full of sliced peaches. To me, that means we’ve really come home.

LJ Cohen


6 responses to “Traditions, Rituals and Returning Home

  1. I grew up canning at my mother’s side, but I’ve fallen out of the habit. Maybe I’ll take it up again one of these years. πŸ™‚

  2. Such a sweet post! Have fun with the canning!

  3. Love peaches! Can you make peach ice-cream? I’m still in search of it.

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