It had been a very warm day. I had made it warmer by starting the canning process of the three bushels of peaches I had gotten earlier in the week. I always purchased the peaches a little green so I could can them as they ripened. That way the peaches that were canned tasted the best. Sometimes that process took a few days but the end result was worth it. The good thing was the peaches all usually ripened at about the same time. I never had to worry about peaches that were ripe before all the other ones, as inevitably they would get eaten by one of my seven children, or me. Peaches were our favorite fruit.
However, the help I invariably required of my children to get the peaches canned to completion was not as readily received as eating a ripe peach. This always seemed to be an issue no matter what the subject of canning happened to be. This time it appeared to be no different. Then something magical happened.
Being a corner house in a neighborhood of children, our home was always full of excess visitors the same age as my children. I knew I had finally arrived as “the neighborhood hangout” when I didn’t know all of the children “hanging out” at my house. Being an interactive parent, I quickly took care of that.
I rounded up all known and unknown children in my yard and announced to them they were going to help me can peaches. I told them if they did not want to help they could leave pronto, we had things to accomplish. They all looked at each other and back at me. You could have heard crickets until MY older children gave a low groan with a “do we have to?”whine. Laughing, I said “what do you think the answer is?”
They promptly turned to their friends and said “Run! Run while you can!” I thought to myself that would be a difficult process to run while canning, but I knew that humor would not get understood by the audience I had. Their friends just smiled and said “we want to learn” (that sentence is music to a teacher’s ears).
So, I brought the children into the kitchen and dining room, as there were more little bodies than I had space for around the kitchen table. I taught the children how to sort through the boxes and how to tell which peach was ripe, which peach was green and which peach needed to sit for a bit. With that many hands it didn’t take long until we had our box of peaches for the day to can.
I then set up assembly lines with those that were old enough to use a knife and those that were not. Peaches then were dipped in scalding water to loosen skins and have them removed. Little and medium hands pulled the skins off, older hands cut the peaches in half and littler hands stacked and arranged peaches properly in jars.
While they did this, I made the sugar syrup and removed sterilized jars from the dishwasher. I put lids and rings in water, brought it to a boil to sterilize them and soften the rubber for a better seal on the jars. With this many hands the work really did go quickly.
Soon the peaches were all in jars and it was my turn to add the boiling liquid to the jars. I made the children stand back as I did this. I found over the years if I put my jars into a small roaster that held about 5-7 jars I could alleviate spills and control messes as the syrup was being poured. After the syrup was in the jars I showed the children how to insert a bubble remover into the side of the liquid to gently press against the peaches. This released the excess air and created a better seal.
They wiped the syrup from on top of the jars put on the lids, screwed on the rings and helped put the jars in the canner. I told them to go play and I would call them when the peaches were done. Children scattered outside to run off pent-up energy, but they always seemed to wander back in every five minutes or so to check on the progress of the peaches.
When the peaches were done I lifted them out of the canner with the jar lifter and set them aside to cool. In my mind’s eye I can still see the look on the children’s faces of wonder and amazement at the completed project of canned peaches. Once the jars cooled I sent a jar full of the yellow-orange fruit home with each of the children.
In the following days I heard from parents about how their children could not stop talking about how much fun that was. I think it wasn’t just the experience of canning their own food. I think it was the adventure of working with their friends to attain an end result that was unexpected.
When I run across those kids as adults now they always remind me about the adventure of canning peaches. Something that was part of our lifestyle and we took for granted became a vivid experience and memory for children who might have not understood they could preserve their own food. They understand now. I wonder if they would understand the pun about running while you can now too?
Learn how to water bath can fruit (pears) in our how-to video: