The hot days of August and early September remind me of the slave labor days of my youth. This is when our family canned peaches and pears, an activity vital in the feeding of a family of seven. Unlike Instagram, home canning is a messy process of transferring fresh produce into glass jars which are cooked in a large pot of water which also seals the lids. My parents thought nothing of conscripting their children into this arduous chore on the hottest days of the year.
Up to our elbows in sticky juice, we peeled away at mountains of peaches or pears while the temperature in our non-air-conditioned house soared. The job worsened when school started. I don’t know what our mother did while we attended classes, but she didn’t can any fruit. She left that until her unpaid and unwilling sons and daughters arrived from a day in a warm classroom. She’d have all the shades in the house drawn to keep the cool in, but once the big cooker on the stove heated up, so did we. Our hands and arms itched from the peach fuzz and fruit juices, and we grumbled loudly about our working conditions. The managers did not listen.
August and September ended the canning season which began in May with cherries, and progressed through apricots, tomatoes, green beans, and sometimes applesauce. None of these compared to the slippery peaches and pears. I’d shudder at every box of fruit that Dad brought home, knowing my siblings and I had no way to escape from cannery row.
The ordeal could almost be forgotten in winter when we pried the lid off a quart of peaches or pears and let the flavors of summer slide down our throats. On the other hand, as the inventory flew off the pantry shelves with each jar we consumed, I faced another season of slave labor at the family cannery.