I was 10 years old when I decided to try my hand at canning peaches for the Carter County Fair. I picked the prettiest southern Oklahoma peaches just shy of being ripe so they would hold their shape stacked and packed into quart jars. Some even retained a bit of the pink blush that is so enticing on the peeling.
Canning was an all-day process: picking, washing, submerging the fruits in boiling water, followed by an ice water bath then carefully peeling away the skin after cutting around the seed. I arranged them in the jars pit side down so that each peach cupped over the top of the peach half below it. They nestled beautifully all the way up the sides.
Ascorbic acid in the form of powder like today's Fruit Fresh was added to the sugar syrup before it was poured over the peaches to preserve their lovely yellow color. The rims were thoroughly cleaned, lids and rings boiled and placed on the top of each jar before they were ready to process in the canner. It was a precarious operation even for a determined little girl.
My peaches often won blue ribbons in the 4-H division at the fair, but it was the pleasure of enjoying them again for Thanksgiving and Christmas that made me swell with pride. Even my grandmother thought they were almost “too pretty to eat.” I attributed the success of my canning operation to my mother's peach trees. Even though my dad had helped plant and tend the trees, it was mother's bees that helped pollinate the beautiful pink blossoms in the spring.
My parents dug deep into organic gardening during my childhood. Much of our table talk was farm and garden talk. An important space in the freezer was parceled out to peaches from our “orchard” that consisted of a row of trees between our house and the adjacent pasture.
Canning during the summer heat of southern Oklahoma proved more challenging than simply coating the peaches with ascorbic acid and sugar and packing them into freezer bags. We made some peach jam, plenty of fresh peach cobblers and ate a fair share of the fruit before processing them for the freezer.
I can almost taste those icy sweet peaches straight from the freezer. Mother would thaw a bag of them when we were having homemade ice cream or for Sunday dinner. As they began to thaw, you could break off an icy sweet slice of peach bliss.