Learning to Preserve

Every morning, I got out and sit on my patio with my coffee, journals, current book I’m reading, and computer. My whole world is contained in my fenced in space. I watch the seasons come and go from there and I also watch my characters live hundreds of moments in various story lines.

Today, I find myself in the thick of Peach season. I have two peach trees. They are glorious. Every year I have the problem of finding homes for a ton of peaches. Which is a good problem to have. The best I’ve been able to guestimate; I give away over 50, 5-gallon buckets of peaches a year. That doesn’t include the peaches I freeze, bake and can.

I make peach jam, but if I’m being honest, it really isn’t ‘jam’. I never use it on bread. I tend to refer to it as ice cream topping or yogurt topping. And I hate making it. I don’t like the canning process. I taught myself how to preserve peaches and tomatoes in jars. I like freezing better, it’s less domesticated. That’s what I really dislike about the whole process. This fifties, oppressed, “domestic goddess” ideal that I’ve put on the task.

For several years I would get so angry when I canned peaches. Angry at the boiling water. Angry if I’m barefoot in the kitchen, which I always am because I like going barefoot. Angry when the lids don’t ‘pop’ afterwards and I no longer know if the contents will keep. Angry because even though I follow the instructions I don’t know if I’m doing it ‘right’.

And maybe that’s at the crux of this whole process. Societies preconceived notions of what a woman ‘should’ be, how I internalized it, and how I have fought the labels for so many years.

Canning was something I turned to because I wanted to preserve the peaches; but unknowingly, that first year I attempted canning, I was also canning the end of summer feeling. I don’t dislike the gardening aspect of things. I love getting my hands dirty. When I’m up in the peach trees early in the morning, watching the sun wink at me between the branches, the orange, dark red and slight yellow of peaches growing, my poor tree’s branches sagging under the weight, the smell of fresh peach so pungent it wafts over the yard for a few weeks…it’s wonderful.

And then, in the middle of December, when I find myself in the mood for an upside down peach cake, I use some of the peaches I’ve canned and I’m transported back into my tree once again.

Learning about the history of the Mason jar and how it brought a more nutritious food and in return health to people during the winter months helped my anger subside. Thinking about my great grandmothers who lived in Boise also helped.

I think about my ancestors, of course I’ve been thinking about them a lot lately. It’s the state of our world, I often find myself using their lives and the times of history they lived through to give myself hope and comfort. They made it through; they put one foot in front of the other one and lived. And we can too.

I think about what is important to me, Lord knows this has been at the forefront of all our minds over the past 21 months. And my answer is family and friend’s health and safety, but in a way I never understood before. Next on the list is my ability to write and the gift my words can be for others. And a close behind that is my love of history.

As a historian and my families self-proclaimed family historian, I was thinking about preserving this peach season. I’ve have been learning to preserve for a long time now; long before these peach trees and the idea of canning came into my life.

It started when I was in high school. One year, we went to Georgia over the holiday break for a family reunion. I had a report for history class to do over the break. It was one of those projects where the goal was to “interview someone in your family who lived during The Great Depression or World War II.”

My dad’s dad was in the Navy during World War II. So we carved out some time for the interview, I opened my notebook and asked him the required questions. Then, it all happened.

Everything, everyone disappeared. It was just my grandfather and I and the stories. I wrote down everything he said, as quickly as I could. To this day I’m not sure where everyone was. My grandparents had a house full, but to me, those moments seemed like an entire day of sitting with my grandfather while he told me stories. He pulled out the family tree and wrote it down for me. He explained our people. He showed me pictures of him and his buddies during the war and told me he lied about his age when he joined.

He passed away that following August.

I meticulously went through the notes I had taken during our conversation and rewrote it all. In those moments, I was learning to preserve.

I fell in love with the personal side of history after that. The stories, the mythology, the cause and effect of human nature in our world. When I went to college, I didn’t go for a Masters in writing, I took history because the stories were better.

I don’t get angry at the process of canning these days. I find my thoughts tilting toward the idea of how we all preserve our own histories.


  • Terri Niccum

    Oh, Nicole! This is so beautiful! First you gave me your lovely experience being up in your peach tree, all the enticing senses of it. Then you made me cry talking about interviewing your grandfather and the closeness that resulted from listening to his war stories.
    You have a gift for unveiling the deeper meanings of our actions. Thank you!

  • Tammy

    My thoughts, too, have been on preserving “your” peaches. They are glorious and scrumptious and worth all of the toil and trouble to taste a fresh peach in the middle of winter. Thanks for sharing your bounty! Love, Tam

    • Valeri

      Oh this was a stunning piece. How is it possible I could actually smell peaches while reading this? You’re brilliant Nicole. Your innate way of drawing in your audience… as if we’re sitting across from you at that table, looking at the peach trees, and discussing our history.

Leave a Reply