Of Peaches, Preserving and Star Trek

As a kid, I grew up pickling and canning and shucking and hulling. In fact, that’s where my deep love for Star Trek comes from.

Every summer day at 5 p.m., my mom would turn the TV on to Star Trek (the original; I am that old) and we would sit together and snap beans or shell peas. It’s one of my most vivid and cherished childhood memories. (Except when the “Doomsday Machine” episode came on. They always played that one, never “Trouble with Tribbles.”)

Then, as summer moved into the real dog days, late August, we would head to the Palisade, Colo., orchards to buy bushels of peaches. Fresh off the trees peaches. Juice-running-down-your-face peaches.

If it weren’t for how damned good those peaches were – the taste of summer distilled — I would have loathed those trips. Old farm truck – air conditioning + 100 degree heat = cranky, cranky Amy.

When we got our prize bounty home, the marathon canning session would begin. Mom standing elbow deep in golden orbs, turning out the preserves that filled our lunch boxes (peaches and cottage cheese) and stuffed our pies (!!) through the winter. Plus, there were tomatoes and tomato sauce. Pickles and jams. But the peaches have always been my favorite.

I presume I was helpful. Or maybe I was helpful by staying out the way. But I have no recollection of actually canning. I remember the getting. And I remember the eating. But I have no memory of the doing.

So last summer, I decided I was going to honor my agricultural roots and can and preserve here in the heart of Brooklyn. Up Karl and I went into the Hudson Valley for bushels of peaches and tomatoes. And in flew Mom to help with the process.

She taught me very important things, like how not to kill my guests – or myself – with botulism. (Good skill). Always put a cookie sheet under where you are filling jars. (Much easier cleanup.) And green tomatoes should not be wasted; instead make salsa verde. (Mmmm).

We made tomato sauce that was in all of my pastas and lasagnas and other heavy winter dishes. Our peaches became my breakfast and base for my standby peach upside-down cakes. Salsa Verde went on everything from pork chops to enchiladas. The roasted red peppers, oddly, are still sitting in the cupboard, unused.

And then there were beets. Those were epic fail. Alas. (Too much clove.)

This year, the Atlantic Monthly has given me a few more tasty options to consider from contributor and Hunter, Angler, Gardener, Cook blogger Hank Shaw. Pickled or preserved lemons. Better roasted red peppers. Artichokes. Picked ramps.

Sometimes, in the doldrums of summer, when my garden promises to overwhelm me, the squash are being eaten by aphids, and the CSA greens are threatening to march out of the fridge, a little afternoon food porn is all I need to feel inspired again.

So I’m plotting this year’s attack. I have my canning and pickling bibles: Ball Complete Book of Home Preserving by Judi Kingry, The Joy of Pickling by Linda Ziedrich, and Well-Preserved: Recipes and Techniques for Putting Up Small Batches of Seasonal Foods by Eugenia Bone. And now, Hank Shaw.

Now all I need is my mom and the DVD collection of Star Trek: Deep Space Nine. — Amy Haimerl

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