With two weeks to go in August, summer seems to be flying by fast. Already, in spots, the leaves on the trees are turning and falling. Gardens are offering their bounty as the peak of harvest arrives. That’s why I stopped in at Shirk’s Produce west of town and asked about peaches. With our impromptu trip to Baltimore, I hoped I hadn’t missed them completely. I was quickly reassured when I saw the crates overflowing with peaches and I left with a bushel, divided into two boxes.
As soon as I got home, I placed the two boxes on our front porch where they finished ripening in the afternoon sun and warmth. I started to smell the sweetness rising in the air and I knew it was time to start canning. I like everything about peaches: the boxes loaded with ripe fruit with a few leaves still clinging, the soft furry texture of each round, the variety of color spreading on each one. And then, there’s that magical moment when you slice into the first one, twist it to separate the halves, take out the pit and start peeling.
These are perfectly juicy, deliciously sweet, yet firm and large. I fill my big stainless steel milking bucket with a mixture of salt, vinegar and water and, standing at the newspaper-lined dining room table, I get to work. One by one, I handle each peach. My gestures, rusty from a year off, come back to me in muscle memory. Slowly, the bucket starts to fill with peach halves. Sometimes, I have to urge a recalcitrant pit out of its nest. And as I peel, every now and then, I pop a thin slice into my mouth.
On the stove, water is heating in the old, speckled-blue canner on one burner. A mixture of sugar and water sits on the other burner, waiting for the canning to begin. There’s jars and lids and rings to sterilize. The kitchen fills with steam and heat. I pull out all the tools I need to do the job. I fill one hot jar at a time. The peaches are slippery and plop into the jars with a slapping sound. I cover them with the sweet liquid, wipe the rims of the jars, then place the lids and rings on. Ready or not, here you go into the hot bath. While the jars process on the stove, I’m back at it, slicing, twisting, pitting, peeling.
On the stereo speakers, The Greencards sing about love and life. Their soundtrack keeps my spirits up as my fingers keep working. Every now and then, I set down my paring knife and do a little jig to help loosen my tired shoulders and legs. Soon, Jim is home and he takes over the canning as I continue to peel.
By 10:35, the last canner load is boiling. The pantry shelves will hold 47 jars of peaches, almost one a week for the coming year. When winter rolls around, these jars will become treasures, tastes of summer’s sunshine. And there are a few peaches left for right now! I will eat a few fresh and hope to make some into peach pie or peach bars. Here’s a recipe if you want one.
PEACH CRUMBLE BARS
2 cups all-purpose flour
1 1/4 cups almonds, finely ground
3/4 cup packed dark brown sugar
1 cup butter
½ cup white sugar
3 T. cornstarch
1 teaspoon lemon peel, grated
5 cups fresh peaches, sliced
1/2 teaspoon almond extract
1 T. caramelized ginger, chopped into small pieces
Preheat oven to 350°. Line a 13-by-9-by-2 inch baking pan with parchment paper, making sure the paper covers the sides.
For the crust: in a large bowl, stir together the flour, almonds and brown sugar. Using a pastry blender, cut in the butter until mixture resembles fine crumbs. Remove 1 1/2 cups of the mixture; set aside. Press the remaining mixture evenly onto the bottom of prepared baking pan. Bake for 15 minutes.
For the filling: in another large bowl, combine the granulated sugar, cornstarch, caramelized ginger and lemon peel. Add peaches and almond extract; toss gently to combine. Spoon peach filling over hot baked crust, spreading evenly. Sprinkle with reserved crumb mixture.
Bake about 40 minutes more or until filling is bubbly and topping is lightly browned. Cool in pan on a wire rack. Using the parchment paper, lift the baked mixture out of the pan. Slide off of the parchment paper. Cut into bars in desired size.
La Bonne Vie’s Rachel Shenk has been an artisan baker for 30 years. Born and raised in Belgium, she has lived in Goshen since 1973. She has been writing about food, traveling and the good life for about 10 years. You can connect with her on her Facebook page, La Bonne Vie, or at her cheese shop in Goshen, The Wedge.