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.
Ripe for the picking
I wish I had those trees in our yard now, but I still find my “peach bliss” at the farmers markets in Oklahoma City and Enid.
The peaches come from Porter and Stratford, which both celebrated their yields with festivals last weekend. If you grew up in Oklahoma, you may recall those two locations have been supplying the whole state with juicy sweet peaches for decades now. My aunts used to make a day of driving to Stratford to purchase peaches by the bushel so they could can and freeze them to enjoy throughout the rest of the year.
I find it interesting how certain foods evoke a memory. I associate peaches with my mother who passed away over a decade ago. I see her tending the hives under those trees blooming in pink profusion in our Oklahoma springtime. I still plop a fresh peach slice into a tall glass of iced tea just as my parents did. We enjoy fresh peaches sliced in our cereal and granola.
We love peach pie and cobbler. Occasionally, I make fried pies like my grandmother and great-grandmothers used to make. They probably fried them up for lunch in those iron skillets that occupied pretty much a permanent position on the right front stove burner. Bacon fat rendered from breakfast was often the medium used to fry the pies, which could be tucked into a lunch box or hurriedly fried up when it was time for an after-dinner sweet.
Peaches are ripe for the picking now in orchards across the state and at your nearest farmers market. I found some fabulous peaches from Porter at the Urban Agrarian market in Oklahoma City. They are available at the St. Anthony's market on Fridays along with some wonderful Oklahoma peach ice cream. Need I say more? Get out there and enjoy some Oklahoma peaches; they are the best.
Fried peach pies
Almost like your grandmother or great-grandmother made, these pies made smaller make a great little treat anytime or to finish a camping-out meal. Topped with cinnamon-
This recipe makes about 16 miniature or 4 to 6 larger fried pies.
2½ cups Oklahoma peaches unpeeled and cut in ½- to ¾-inch chunks (peaches can be peeled, but the peel adds texture and color to filling when cooked)
2 teaspoons fresh-squeezed lemon juice
1 tablespoon Hiland, Braum's or Wagon Creek butter
2 tablespoons brown sugar
1 tablespoon sugar
¼ cup Shawnee Mills all-purpose flour
½ teaspoon almond extract
2 cups Shawnee Mills all- purpose Flour
2 teaspoons baking powder
½ teaspoon salt
½ cup shortening or Braum's, Wagon Creek or Hiland Butter
½ cup ice water (slightly more if needed to make dough pliable for rolling out)
Want the taste of peach pie without the fuss of frying? Simply cut the pastry into discs, bake like cookies on a baking sheet and serve with the peach filling. Add a scoop of ice cream, of course. Freeze the assembled pies for frying or baking ahead for easy preparation later. They keep well in the freezer for six months.