Written by Art Petrosemolo
As many of our friends know, Tina and I will become 7-year Garden Spot residents at Christmas. We were fortunate to be Sycamore Springs’ first residents in #507 and we lived in a home we named the “Outpost” for the first several months as we were the community’s first residents… What a difference seven years have made.
In that time, while writing for the Lancaster Weekly Newspapers in Ephrata and Lititz, Lancaster Farming and Mid-Atlantic Horse, I have met lots and lots of Plain folk to research my stories. I have gained their trust and they are honest with me in my research and most times, let me photograph them working. It has been a win-win relationship for both of us…and now, many times, when I introduce myself to an Amish or Mennonite farmer they’ll say “I see your work in Lancaster Farming.”
In my years here I have become particularly close to the Fisher Family of New Holland. Michael, a master furniture maker, has done all the live edge tables here in the community and Mike was my first Plain friend, the first person who allowed me to interview and photograph him. I just turned 80 this spring and Michael is young enough (30s) to be my grandson. He says I am an old soul with a young heart and I say he is a young man with an old soul….. we get along well.
After Mike, I met his mother Ruth, a widow, and we have become fast friends. From Ruth and Mike, I met sisters Rose and Ruby, Amish housewives, raising families. Ruby lives in Narvon and Rose who lived in New Holland and welcomed me as a daily visitor to her kitchen for three years, has moved to Fair Play, MO and although we talk on the phone regularly, it isn’t the same as sitting on a kitchen stool and talking about “stuff.”
Rose taught me my first canning skills when I wanted to do a story about same for Lancaster Farming. My first attempt on my own was a disaster and Tina banned me from using the kitchen stove after I had a jar of peaches explode and spray juice all over the kitchen.
I was limited to making jam, which is a little more controlled and had to contract someone to can peaches for me and it was not good. I did do 12 pints last year after I made peach jam and they were gone before the first leaves turned color and I was “peachless” for most of the year.
This spring as I started to think about canning, Ruth Fisher volunteered to help me can peaches… even the 36 quarts I hoped would last the year. We were introduced to Abraham Miller in Narvon through Ruth’s daughter Ruby. Mr. Miller owns AM Orchards and promised we would get the first of the Red Haven brand, which is our favorite. When we lived in Lancaster in the 1970s, we ate Golden Jubilee peaches. Unfortunately, like the Silver Queen corn that was popular back then, Golden Jubilee peaches are no longer grown.
I did an early peach story in July with Abraham and he took me to his orchard on top of a hill sitting in a big peach container they use for harvests. He lifted me up with a forklift and drove up the hill. We laughed all the way. I ordered about 10 ½-bushels of Red Havens for late in July.
Mr. Miller called me on July 21 and told me to pick the peaches up on July 24, which we did. They filled the back of Tina’s Subaru Forester. We got them to Ruth’s home on Mentzer Road and laid them out on newspaper on a big table in her (coolish) basement. The basement is partly below ground and has a “canning kitchen.”
On July 27, Ruth, Ruby, Mike’s wife Esther and I met in the basement for an impromptu Sisters’ Day. We set up a production line to can the peaches. Ruth never puts the peaches in hot water to loosen skin. She lets them ripen for a day or so until she knows the skin is ready to come off. We washed the peaches and she was right. The peach skin came off almost in one piece after the peaches were cut in half and pit removed.
Ruth, Ruby and I peeled and cut (the special way to cut to get nice cubes) while Esther and the children put sugar and water into jars. It was fun to watch the children work right along with us even if we did get a little extra sugar in some of the jars.
After five hours including an hour for a pizza lunch, we completed some 75 quarts of peaches and another dozen pints. Having a processor that took 16 quarts at a time really helped. I took home 44 quarts and 12 pints. Finding storage space for them was a challenge.
I can’t tell you what a good time it was and the ladies all laughed saying I had enough canned peaches to eat some daily for the next year. And you know, they are right. I’m a city boy who has embraced farm life. I now just take pleasure in writing and living the heritage of my Lancaster County Amish and Mennonite friends.