Peaches, being a baby’s first food, were never in short supply in our old farmhouse. Fresh in the summer and obtainable all through the rest of the year, they beamed from a long row in the pantry, jar after jar of canned smiles.
Every August, on a mild weekday morning, before the sun made an appearance, I dragged my sleeping children into the gas guzzling Gran Torino station wagon and buckled them in. With wobbly heads they fell back to sleep instantly.
Once on the road, I had time to listen to the radio, twisting the dial when out of range, hearing agriculture reports along with weather and road conditions. I listened to everything, relishing stolen quiet moments until one yawner awoke and quickly roused the others.
The drive from Enumclaw to Union Gap, over Chinook pass, was about three hours and by the time we got there, I had hungry travelers. Their first meal of the day was a big, fat, fresh peach, fuzz removed with whatever buffer available. They didn’t actually mind the downy skin and begged for more. There is nothing like a fresh peach straight from the orchard.
Once I made my purchases, usually three lugs, approximately 75 pounds, we headed back to the other side of the mountains. Ordinarily we pulled into the driveway shortly after noon. The kids were wired from the long ride and tumbled into the yard, chasing chickens, doing cartwheels and unloading pent up energy.
I hauled the lugs onto the tailgate and started picking out ripe fruit. The canners were already on the stove, filled with water and ready to be loaded with jars, which had been sterilized and covered the day before.
The next two days were spent canning; first dipping peaches in scalding water, then into a cold bath, peeling the skin and halving them. The sink was full of pinkish water skimmed with peach fuzz. Dinner was late on those nights and kids fell asleep somewhere in the vicinity of bedrooms if they were lucky. The baby usually was located in a Johnny-jump-up or infant seat, following my every move with her eyes.
Today, the peaches one buys don’t taste, regardless of where you buy them, Whole Foods, Co-op stores or the like. By don’t taste, I mean they aren’t like the dripping, sweet, candy-like peaches I hauled fresh over the mountains and fed my family throughout the winter.
The other day my friend Marni brought an apron-full of peaches from her family orchard in Kettle Falls. The taste is like juicy sugar heaven. I miss having a baby in the house who I can introduce this first fruit. I nearly ate them all myself.