My neighbors own Grossen’s Peach Orchard which goes on for miles in all directions. Standing in the midst of their trees makes me feel timeless and whole. Overripe peaches lie smashed against hot summer earth, green ones hide at the center of the tree, and perfect golden orbs bedazzle each branch ready to release into my eager hands.
Mr. Grossen runs up and down the lanes of his farm on a four wheeled tractor running errands and transporting neighbors who’ve come to pick. We bump over peach strewn paths and bounce beneath rows and rows of ripe fruit, as he smiles his good natured smile and points out the best picking grounds.
It’s not unusual for the orchard to open to the public one day, then place a sign by the road saying, “Closed for Ripening” the next. I respect that sign, but Gib doesn’t think he means it. The Grossens are an older couple who believe in being neighborly and kind. They should throw Gib on his ear when he walks past the sign, but they open their door and their orchard instead. That’s Gib’s Los Angeles pushy side. I would be mortified to do such a thing, but Gib has this golden retriever way about him that folks can’t seem to resist. Next thing I know, we’re scooting around the orchard looking for bounty.
We often pick with my daughter Kristen and granddaughter, Isabella. Juice runs down my arm and drips from my elbow as I wipe peach fuzz on my apron and plunge into the warm center of the fruit. Isabella’s chin is already sticky. There are juice spots on her neck and stains on her summer blouse, as she offers her nine year old opinion about the readiness of this year’s crop. We overfill our baskets in delight and greed. When we weigh our bounty, the bill resembles the national debt. No wonder they let us in.
Canning equipment waits at home. We set up an extra table in the kitchen and become a production line. Water boils on the stove, one pot for sterilizing, another for plunging to release delicate skins. Isabella and Kristen lift them steaming from the bath, drop them into ice water and begin to peel and cut.
Gib and I pack slices into sterilized jars. His white chef’s apron is already stained. His belly is flush with the table where juices overflow, drip dropping to the floor. I don’t look much better as I fill each jar with honey lemon glaze and lift them into their canning bath. We place rubber circles on the top, wait the allotted time, and listen for the familiar pop that ensures their seal.
The last two seasons at Grossen’s have been bleak. Winter lasted too long, spring was too wet, and summer was reluctant. Their crop was either green or cracked and fell uneaten to the ground.
How can you survive such loss, I asked standing in their field.
It gets harder every year, Mrs. Grossen confides.
When my thirteen year old granddaughter, Britan, came to visit from Los Angeles, I was determined to have peach time with her, but the orchard was damaged. Our yield barely filled one basket, but I was persistent. In the end, we did all the work of canning with only six jars to show for our effort. After a long afternoon, Britan looked at me with her clear blue eyes and said, Exactly what is supposed to be fun about this grandma?