Those fuzzy blooms of South Carolina peach trees will soon transform into juice laden spheres of deliciousness. Every surface in my mother’s kitchen will be covered by sticky newspaper, and all of her cooking pots will gurgle with boiling mashed peaches, loads of sugar and plenty of pectin. The fragrant steam of those bubbling, so-fresh peaches will infuse her home with pink sweetness once again.
After countless years together, my mother and I move as one through the process of sterilizing lids and rings, ladling hot jam, and wiping sealed jars. We love the jam making season – not in spite of the hard, hot, endless work that fills the days – rather because of the time we spend together. We talk about all kinds of important and silly things, and share contended silences as easily as laughter.
My mother introduced me to canning, cooking, and baking decades ago. She explained why it was important to measure the pectin, not just wing it. She showed me how to grade the peaches – and explained that one bad peach does indeed ruin the bushel, so you need to be diligent about checking the tables filled with the always softening fruit. She showed me that humid days spent on your feet and bent over soapy tubs of canning jars or boiling vats of sugary fruit were good days if you stuck with it, and even better if you worked with a friend.
And through the years, my mother and I have become close friends. While stirring gallons of jam, I learned that my mother has an impressive knowledge of science, a tireless work ethic, and a terrific sense of humor. While pre-measuring pounds of sugar, she learned that I can be rather practical, that I really was paying attention even as a teenager, and that I cherish her and my father.
As the canning season approaches, I look forward to precious days spent in my mother’s kitchen. I will welcome the sweat and steam, the laughter and sweetness.