I canned peaches with a friend last night. I've never canned anything before, aside from that brief foray into pickled beets a couple of weeks ago (and, frankly, I'm not entirely sure I got that one right, although I don't have the heart yet to go check on my jars sitting there so hopeful in the cupboard). I've wanted to learn how to can for years and years, to line up the jars of summer and sweat in the cupboard. But the project has seemed so daunting for so long from the outside: all that sterilizing and boiling and popping out of air bubbles and processing and waiting and hoping for the seal and the threat all round of death.
So many things to get wrong, such huge repercussions.
But then Stephanie texted me like a gift to say she'd ordered peaches and did I want her to order me a box, too, and then I could come over and she could show me how. And I wrote back, YES! of course, and she mentioned that they would arrive in the next couple of weeks, these British Columbia Freestone peaches, and that once they arrived we would have to can them the very moment they were ripe. What followed was a comedy of errors in terms of scheduling: the traditional and the modern colliding as we tried desperately in the midst of Jewish holidays and soccer tryouts and wine club dinners and Symphony tickets and work schedules to find an evening that would work. Last night, we finally opened a bottle of wine and two boxes of peaches as tender as a baby's bruise, and got to work.
"They won't be pretty," she said. "But they'll taste good."
So much is going on right now, all those beginnings and endings of chapters and pieces that I am sorting through in my life. It's the kind of time that makes me crave a big project that can be accomplished over the course of an evening and a bottle of wine when two people stand and score and scald and cut fruit and place it gently, cut side down, in hot, clean jars. Fill with syrup, knock out the air bubbles, screw on lids fingertip-tight and process, process, process in boiling water for 25 minutes. At each step me saying, "Just so long as nobody dies, I'm okay." And her saying, "Nobody's gonna die." She should know; she's a doctor. For what that's worth.
In between those steps, I made peach pies (also for the first time), rolling out dough and mixing cut fruit with lemon juice and flour, cinnamon and salt, stirring it together with my hands. I held them up, dripping with fruit and sugar, and asked Stephanie if she would forgive me if I licked my fingers — too much sweetness to rinse away. She, meanwhile, was boiling down the tiny bits of peach left over to make juice for her kids, and why not?
We chatted, mostly about the process at hand and how we grew up: what we've learned on our own, what our mothers taught us (for the record, while my mom loved to feed people, canning would never have interested her. She did, however, make several dozen apple crisps each fall, when the apples were at their peak, and froze them — a tradition I have continued and that my children adore.). I asked her what it actually meant to be on call all weekend: does that mean you sit at home and wait for your beeper to go off? Are you at the hospital all day? What's involved? What do you do? The things I don't know about a doctor's life. She asked how the writing was going, mused about the difference between being an avid reader and an absolutely reluctant writer. Did I like rereading what I had already written, she wanted to know. When enough time has passed, I said.
And when what I wrote was good in the first place.
And then we were done, the project completed well before midnight, beginning to end, nothing killed but the bottle.