Written by Art Petrosemolo
A few weeks ago, I spent several days researching a story on food preservation and canning, which is a huge tradition here in farm country for Lancaster Farming. I was fascinated by how many English, Amish and Mennonite moms can fruits and vegetables for their family to enjoy all year.
Well, I love canned (really jarred) peaches and my Plain Community friends have been gracious in seeing that I don’t run out. But my appetite for these peaches—I eat them every morning at breakfast with blueberries, strawberries or some other fruit—is voracious.
After seeing others can in my research, I got the bug and thought I might be able to supply my own peaches for the coming winter. My wife Tina, who has known me for 49 years, shook her head. Not to be deterred, I reached out to Rose Stoltzfus from New Holland. Rose is the sister of Mike Fisher who makes the wonderful live edge tables for Garden Spot, and she had helped me with the canning story. Rose and I have kind-a bonded and I asked her if she would help me learn to can some of the current crop of Lancaster County peaches.
Rose agreed and we set a date. We had hoped to use Red Haven peaches but the season had ended and we used a brand called Contender. After my food preservation story, I was all into hot bath processing or pressure canning and a little nervous about getting it right and also being sure the jars were all sealed and not hiding Botulism. Rose, her mother and sister do this all the time and she said not to worry and I didn’t.
Well Rose isn’t a mom who sits home, watches TV and eats bonbons. She is an Amish housewife with six young children ages two to 11 including twin boys who are just two. She runs a busy, busy household with children, a hard working husband, a large house with family garden, a carriage horse and English Bull Dogs that they breed.
The Stoltzfus children, as do all Amish children, help their mom and dad with chores. Rose does more laundry in a week than most of us do in a month and fortunately her young daughters, not ten, are adept at helping her bring in the clothes from the outside line, fold them and get them put away. (I asked if they wanted a part-time job and Rose laughed!)
So the week of August 12, just after I returned from four days on Lake Erie in Ontario, Canada, photographing the Lightning Class North American Championship sailing regatta, I showed up at Rose’s home ready for my first lesson. Tina was kind enough to purchase Ball jars for me. Tina and Rose had picked up the peaches. No, Rose didn’t drive the buggy, Tina took the Subaru Outback.
Rose had set the peaches out to soften for two days before I arrived. She showed me how to rinse them in warm water, cut each peach in half and gently peel the skin away. Then she put half a peach on her palm and proceeded to cut four slices and cross slices for the pieces that were shoved in the jar. I caught on quickly and was about able to do one peach to her three. Rose added just a quarter-cup of sugar to the jar when it was half full and then filled each jar with warm water when the jars were packed with the fruit.
The jars were then put into a large pot with the water up to the jar rim and the water was heated to a rolling boil and the peaches processed for five minutes. We removed the jars and let them sit to cool. Rose lets the jars sit for 24 hours and you can hear the lids “pop” as they seal.
Before we started the entire canning process, Rose and Tina got four cups of peaches ready for me and with Rose’s children helping, I made almost a gallon of fresh peach ice cream from a recipe I found online. We had been invited to stay for supper and the ice cream was scheduled for dessert. We did and it was!!!!
I was pretty encouraged that the canning process wasn’t rocket science and decided that 12 quart jars we had done plus the four I was still hoarding might not be enough. So the day after my lesson, Tina bought me another basket of peaches at Leeds here in New Holland and another dozen jars and this time I was on my own.
I found I was a little better with the peeling and cutting the more I did it and I followed Rose’s instructions carefully down to cleaning the jar rims before securing the lids prior to processing.
I felt a great deal of satisfaction when I looked at the two dozen quart jars filled with the bright yellow fruit that I would enjoy during the cold winter months.
I have been truly blessed retiring in Lancaster County here at Garden Spot Village and being able to learn about a new culture while writing for the local newspapers. I have a great deal of respect my Amish and Mennonite colleagues and treasure their friendships.
I texted Rose the morning after we did the canning and said I was amazed how she could run such a big household and keep her sanity with six children (two still in diapers) to keep an eye on. She doesn’t think it’s a big deal and just part of her Amish culture. For a cradle-Catholic like me, I’d call it the patience of a saint.