In “Dandelion Wine,” that short, and somewhat dark, novel by Ray Bradbury, there is this wonderful image of the unique powers of Dandelion wine.
The wine is made at the height of the dandelion season – late spring and all summer. But, when it is drunk in the gray and cold months of winter, the wine has the power to bring back the warmth and the feeling of the summer day when it was preserved.
Great images are conjured whenever a particular food, piece of music or special scent reminds us of a very specific past event. Whenever I hear the Five Satins sing “In the Still of The Night” (I Remember) the image in my mind is of Moody Matthews and a group of his friends singing that song in the lunchroom at Oliver High in the 1950s.
Whenever a turkey is roasting, even in April or May, the mental response to that smell is of many Thanksgiving memories rolled into one. And, for me, the wonderful images of late summer are preserved by the simple task of by “putting up” peaches and plums.
At the Northside farmers market a few years ago I made the acquaintance of the McConnell family of farmers from the countryside behind Aliquippa.
The McConnell farm has been in the family since the late 18th century when Captain John B. McConnell took a patent on this farmland as his payment for serving the state of Pennsylvania in the Revolutionary War. Subsequent generations of McConnells have been producing bushels of fruit and vegetables from that acreage ever since.
When the peach harvest comes in, it is well worth the drive to buy a few pecks of peaches fresh from the McConnell orchards so as to pack ‘em away in pint jars for the winter months.
The process of “putting up’ peaches is about as easy as any. When they are just at their ripest the skins slip right off. The big red almond looking stones pop out, and the peaches can be easily sliced into eighths. It takes about a minute per peach.
They are then slightly cooked in a light syrup of sugar water and spooned into clean and clear AND hot pint jars. The jars are then capped with the appropriate lids and placed in boiling water for a few minutes. Just pull them from their “bath,” place them on the counter, and listen as the lids “pop” to make a perfect seal.
As a kid, I learned from my grandmother, who did this every year, to add a few prune plums to the batch to give the final product a magnificent color of purple and gold.
By the time the September issue of The Chronicle is printed, the brief peach season at McConnell’s will have past.
Apples, however, will be harvested well into the fall. The pints of peaches (and plums) will be lined up on a shelf in the cellar and remain untouched while other fresher fruits are plentiful at the farmers market, especially those Honey Crisp apples.
But, come mid-January or all of February when the days are short and the wind is sharp the time will be just right to open one of those pints of peaches, and like Bradbury’s Dandelion wine, provide a vivid recollection of the warm sunny days of summer when the peaches were at their prime.