millions of peaches

Finally, finally, the time has come to discuss the peach fiasco.  Things got a little crazy there for awhile.  I had to spend really an unfortunate amount of time studying for finals and the GRE.  It’s real life, you know? Sometimes you have the time and energy to do cool stuff, and sometimes all you can do is try desperately to remember the formula for the circumference of a circle.

So, a couple months ago I was getting my haircut and this lady walked in and gave my stylist this giant jar of peaches.  I was instantly transported to my youth and eating those little slices of peaches in tin cans and I thought, Heeeeyyyy.  I could do that.  Then two weeks ago a U-Pick farm I “like” on Facebook mentioned that they had Early Red Haven peaches opening the next day.  I actually had two free days in a row, one on which to pick, one on which to process, and it seemed perfect, so I headed out to Sauvie Island Farms, armed with a giant red tub, a camera, sunscreen, and about 1 oz of water, which I later regretted immensely.

I actually picked seven pounds of green beans first, thinking I’d freeze them in our brand new (to us) chest freezer, huzzah!  The picking was so easy and fast and satisfying, I was totally feeling smug, which should always be a sign of imminent danger.

The lady had warned me of two things: first, that these peaches, although technically freestone, were actually pretty clingy and were better for eating than for canning.  I am a stubborn woman, and I find it very difficult once I am excited about something to switch directions, so I plowed on ahead.  Second, the peaches had already been pretty well picked out on the north side, so keep to the south, but there should be plenty.

Because I am a giant freak who ignores all advice, I hit the north side first. As I approached, the aroma of peaches was heavy in the air, and the trees all appeared to have tons of fruit on them. But as I got closer, I realized that it was, literally, all rotten.  The trees were loaded down with juicy ripe fruit…that was all covered in mold.  I meandered down toward the south side after all, smashing spoiled fruit under my feet the whole way.  Finally, at the very last row, there were trees that still had a small amount of decent fruit on them, and I picked it all.  I actually was going to jokingly post on Facebook the next day, “Hey don’t go out to Sauvie to pick peaches, I got it all, ha ha ha” and then Sauvie posted that they were out of peaches, and I actually felt kind of guilty.

As I mentioned I was surprised and disappointed to find that I’d only picked sixteen pounds of peaches.  I’ve had this idea of putting up everything while it’s fresh and not buying any non-local produce throughout the winter, and sixteen pounds of peaches was not going to help that much.  But my god, I am glad now I did not have twenty-five pounds of peaches.

The next day I put together this absolutely, in hindsight, ridiculous list of eleven things I wanted to do with the green beans and peaches and a schedule of how I might overlap projects so that I could get them all done in four hours.  I have no idea what I was thinking.

The very first step in the entire process was to dismember the peaches.  All my reference materials said that I should blanch them first and the skin would just slip right off.  The lady at the farm had said the skin was easy to peel, so as you might expect, I ignored the advice and just sat down and started peeling.  About ten minutes and two peaches out of sixty in, I realized that I was being a jackass and started blanching them.  Peach tip #1: blanch them.

Once they were skinned it was time to get the pit out.  This lady was not lying when she said they would not split cleanly in half.  I mean, the peach itself did, but then trying to get the pit out was just impossible.  I thought I’d try sliding it out with a spoon, a la avocado, but it just resulted in a smashed peach.  I couldn’t think of any other way to pit them, so I just started slicing off chunks all around and putting them into one vat of acidulated water, and then leaving a bunch of flesh on the pit and dumping that thing into another vat of acidulated water.  This entire process of breaking down the peaches probably took me 2 1/2 of the 4 hours I had to do stuff in.  Time management is not one of my skills.

Early Red Haven: not a freestone peach

I had, cleverly I thought, had all the canning supplies going on the stove for the entire time, so when I was done, it was go time.  I had to make the simple syrup, which took only a few seconds, but other than that I was ready.  I chose to use an ultra-light syrup and raw pack, because I just really hate the idea of taking these perfect fruits and then cooking them and drowning them in table sugar. Peaches in jars, syrup over the peaches, lids and bands on, and into the canner they went.  It was miraculously smooth.  Now it was time to work on the jam.

It seemed that the only way to get the remaining flesh of the pits was just to basically smush it off.  I really, really hate wasting food, so I wanted to put every teeny last bit to use.  I set my station up again.  Pit bowl, mush bowl, and a bowl for juice, and spent the next half hour squishing peaches over the juice bowl so that even the juice could be used.  Once I finally had extracted every single possible bit of usable material from those peaches, I set about making this peach rosemary jam.

Okay.  Jam mix is bubbling away on the stove, using the best bits of the mush.  Now to use the true dregs of the pulp to make fruit leather.  (Seriously?  Why did I think I was capable of doing all this in one day???) According to my book, it needs to be cooked on the stove first, then strained so that it will…I don’t know.  Make a better fruit leather.  So, now I have a giant canner on the stove with the peaches in it.  A saucepan with jam mix in it next to it.  And a dutch oven full of proto fruit leather behind that.  Everything in my house is sticky.  There are dishes piled upon dishes upon dishes.  Every time I take a step I slide on slimy peach skin.  I am miserable and totally unable to comprehend how I will ever make sense of this chaos.

The jam recipe says that it should thicken in 7 – 15 minutes.  45 minutes later, I am staring at it in mild panic, as it appears to be getting, if anything, more watery.  I need to leave the house to pick up my child pretty much now.  My husband is going to hate me when he gets home and sees the mess.

Shit.  I forgot to feed the chickens.  That’s why they are screaming at me.  Shit, shit, shit.

So out the door I jog, fill up the feeder with food, and I notice, Oh my God they are out of water too and it’s like, eighty degrees outside.  It’s bad enough to half-ass jam, but these are living creatures, and I am a bad human being.  So I fill up their water bucket, and as I walk back the house, the timer goes off and I break into a run.

And I fall over.  This, truly, is the pinnacle of my entire experience.  The timer is still going off, and I am laying on the ground, winded, with dirt on my face where I literally slid face first across the lawn.  I just curled up in the fetal position and stayed there, for three minutes.  I heard the timer go off three times.

Finally I hobble inside and finish up everything.  Peaches are canned.  They float, just like everyone said they would.  I really do not care.  Jam is still watery so I just can it anyway and hope for the best.  The fruit leather mix is done cooking but there is no way I have time to strain it, so I just leave it on the stove, where I will find it the next day, having turned a truly horrible shade of brown.  I leave the piles of dishes and the peach skins on the floor and I just walk away.

I did manage to make some tasty fruit leather the next day, and I have no idea really how the peaches or the jam turned out because I won’t open them until later, but I think they’ll be fine.  Also, I had simple syrup left over and some pretty rosemary, so I just put the rosemary into it and I think it will be fun for making cocktails or something. But oh my god, I have to admit this whole debacle was pretty draining.  I ended up with four jars of peaches, two of jam, and two of simple syrup, plus a sheet of fruit leather, and some very happy chickens when they were given all the pits.  The peach juice is in the fridge still, two weeks later, and I am really hoping for popsicles, but I keep forgetting.  Overall, I’m just not sure that was totally worth dirtying every dish in my house and making my husband clean them all, four hours of my life that could have been spent drinking mimosas on a patio, and sustaining an injury.

I suppose the lesson learned, which I learn ALL THE DAMN TIME, is not to be so ambitious.  And also, use walking feet, and perhaps, clean as you go.

why it’s worth it

Yesterday I processed sixteen pounds of peaches.  It really doesn’t sound like that much.  When I weighed out, I was disappointed.  I was hoping I’d picked twenty pounds or more.  In retrospect, if I had had twenty five pounds of peaches to deal with yesterday, I might have had a mental breakdown, so it would appear that I lucked out.  As I limped out of the house on the way to pick up my kid from school, I thought to myself, Who am I kidding with this stuff?  Why can I not just be a normal human being who buys the overpriced jam with mysterious ingredients and doesn’t think, I could make this better for cheaper?

Is all this even worth it?

Then last night as I uploaded pictures of the peach fiasco, I came upon this picture that I had taken just yesterday morning.  This is what we had for breakfast:

Fresh eggs from the chickens.  Homemade bread.  Homemade jam with strawberries we picked together.  And blueberries from the back yard.

Before you go getting all worried that I might not be as half-assed as I claim to be, I’ll just clarify.  When I gathered those eggs, there were nine in the laying basket because I hadn’t had time to bring eggs in for three days.  The bread was stale and could probably knock a person out cold if used as a weapon.  The jam is not really jam.  I like to call it “preserves” because it didn’t gel and is instead kind of a chunky strawberry syrup.  And half the blueberries are from the yard, but the other half are from the farmer’s market because usually berries don’t actually make it the hundred feet from the bush to the kitchen.

Despite all those caveats, I still feel pretty good that this is what I gave my kid for breakfast, and that she takes it for granted that this is the food we eat.  Also, it was delicious.  I think that sticky arms, a slight limp, and a kitchen that looks like a bomb went off in it are small prices to pay for the privilege of eating so well. So, once my peach leather has dehydrated, we’ll find out what a person can do with sixteen pounds of peaches, four hours, too much ambition and too little common sense.  In the meantime, as I try to complete the seven other things that were on my to-do list yesterday that didn’t get done, I will probably find myself asking myself at least once if it’s really worth it, and I will picture this:  a three year old with sleepy eyes and tousled hair, hands sticky with jam, face smeared with blueberries, shouting “Mama I love breakfast!” Yes, it is definitely worth it.