Saturday, August 1, 2009

Preserving


One of the charms of home economics is the history of the activities, the ties to the past. There are time-saving devices to make things easier -- microwaves, gas stoves with automatic lighters, electric and computerized sewing machines -- but the philosophy and processes are still the same. We sew and craft and cook because we love our homes and the people in them; we do it to create a comfortable environment but save money. The necessity isn't as strong as it once was -- mass agriculture and supermarkets ensure I won't starve if I don't put up food for the winter, but food I buy locally and cook and put up at home is healthier for my family. Many of the local suppliers' agricultural processes are healthier for the planet, too. It's not utopian by any means, but being more connected with the the food we put in our mouths and the clothes we wear make us more mindful of the consequences of consumption.

My mom got a bushel of peaches for me last weekend, and I've been busily putting them up all week. Standing at the sink peeling peaches reminded me of summers at my grandparents' farm, my cousins and I spending afternoons clumsily peeling peaches with a dull paring knife while our mothers and grandmother worked in the kitchen packing them into freezer bags, boiling jam and making cobblers (and occasionally ice cream). Most of my peaches got frozen -- it's the safest and easiest way to preserve them for the dreary winter months.


While I was looking over my recipe sheet (it's the one my peach-growing grandparents used to hand out to customers), I saw a recipe for peach chutney I'd never really noticed before. I don't ever remember having it, and I do remember everything else on the sheet. Maybe it's something they made before I can remember, or just something extra added to the sheet; Mom will have to tell me. Thursday, I sliced up several ripe peaches and made a small batch. I've canned food several times with help from my mom and both my grandmothers, but this was the first time I put anything up myself, and I was so proud to hear the jar lids pop as they sealed properly. It made me feel a little older and a little more grown up, like the first time I made dinner by myself and had every dish come out ready at the exact same time -- something I'd seen my grandmothers and mom do, but which always seemed like alchemy when I tried.

The chutney needs to sit for at least a month to develop, but I can't wait to try it out. It smelled delightfully spicy and tangy, and could be wonderful around Thanksgiving and Christmas. Click the photo below for the full sheet of recipes, including how to freeze peaches and the chutney recipe.
For more on the history of food preservation, check out the University of Georgia's National Center for Home Food Preservation (look also for loads of hints on home canning).

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