Sunday, August 26, 2012

Tomatoes, Peaches, Grasshoppers, and Ducks

We brought home a half bushel of peaches from our trip to peach country on the Western Slope of Colorado.  Even after sharing half of the box of peaches with friends and family, Jim and I have had fresh peaches for breakfast nearly every morning for several weeks now.  Our tomatoes are also starting to ripen, so I have been thinking of ways to include an abundance of cherry tomatoes into our meals.   Eating all of this wonderful fresh produce has reawakened memories of days gone by.

Memories of Gardens of Long Ago

Ryan and Jonathan
North Ogden, Utah
Summer 1979


When my children were young, we lived in North Ogden, Utah.  At one time, before farms were broken up into subdivisions, North Ogden had been an area where the folks in Ogden would go to get peaches, apricots, and cherries from the many orchards that grew in the area.  North Ogden was also known a place that grew wonderful raspberries.

 Our home had been built on a fairly large lot where one of those a peach orchards once stood.  The builder had left some of these old peach trees on the property, and by the time we bought the house three trees remained.  The former owners of the house had built a new home where an apricot orchard once stood.  They asked if we could trade trees each year.  In other words, they wanted to come and pick peaches from one of our trees in exchange for us picking apricots from one of their trees.  It was an arrangement that worked well.

 As the above photo of my two sons shows, these peach trees produced an abundant crop each and every year.  Can you see how the branches are so loaded with peaches that they are nearly touching the ground?

While my children most likely have only great memories of climbing these trees and playing beneath the shade of them, I mostly remember that I had a love/hate relationship with them.  I'm allergic to peach blossoms and to peach fuzz, so I would have a terrible time with my allergies when they were in bloom and when I had to pick them.  Sometimes, when the trees were loaded with peaches, my arms would be covered with rashes when I would go out to pick peaches.  I am also very afraid of heights, so I would not get up on the ladders to pick the peaches at the top.  I hated to have the kids pick them too, because they would want to go out on the branches to reach those peaches inaccessible by ladders. I would stand on the ground afraid the branch would snap and they would fall and break a leg, an arm, a neck.  If we didn't get them picked, the peaches would fall to the ground and make a terrible, mushy, smelly mess.  The peaches would quickly rot on the ground and before long the air would have a terrible vinegar smell and the peaches would attract earwigs.  Needless to say, I tried to harvest as many peaches as I could.

What did I do with all those peaches?  I canned them.  My memories of those days when the above photo was taken are memories of being very, very busy this time of year.  In 1979, I had five children under the age of 12 and a very large yard and garden to help maintain.  My former husband, the father of my children, did most of the maintenance and care of the yard and garden, but he would go off to summer camp for the Army Reserves every summer for two weeks.  During that time, it was really a chore to keep up with the kids, the house, the yard, the garden, and canning.  I wonder now how I did it.  In my neighborhood, one could barely hold one's head up without feeling shame if one didn't relate the number of bottles of peaches, pears, applesauce, jam, tomatoes, or whatever else was in season one had preserved that week.  It wasn't all peer pressure that drove me.  The produce I canned was what fed us during the next year.  We counted on it to supplement our food budget.  Plus, there was great satisfaction that came from seeing my shelves in basement filled with all that beautiful produce bottled and waiting to be consumed.  In many ways I miss those day, but I remember how bone tired I would be as I stood at the sink and peeled peaches and tomatoes, made jams and jellies, sauces and juices.


We didn't just grow peaches.  We grew a lot of raspberries.  I never had many to freeze or to make into jelly because we ate them fresh as they ripened everyday.  Raspberries are a lot of work to grow, but the rewards outweigh the work.  What I wouldn't give to walk out into the yard to pick fresh raspberries again.


We also grew grapes. Every fall, not long after the kids would have returned to school, I would step out onto the back deck and know that it was time to harvest the grapes.  I could smell them when they were ready.  This was usually just as the weather was turning cooler, just before the first hard freeze, in fact it seemed that there would be a slight frost the night before they were ready.  Below, is a photo my me and my precious Julie as we show off the grapes we just harvested.

I had a steam juicer that I used to make grape juice.  If you are interested in the process, you can read about it here:  how to make grape juice.  I would use some of the juice to make grape jelly.  Yum!  I miss that homemade grape juice and grape jelly.  I still have the steam juicer and all the jars in the basement.  What do think the odds are that I will ever use them again?

Tomatoes, grasshoppers, and ducks

I've also been thinking about all the tomatoes I used to grow to can.  My father-in-law was a master gardener when it came to growing a vegetable garden.  My daughter told me he grew tomatoes this year in his garden during his 88th year.  His tomatoes were always abundant and beautiful.  I never could grow tomatoes like he could, but then, I didn't care for them as well as he did.  I grew them because I loved eating a fresh one from the garden everyday, and I loved to can them to use throughout the year in cooking.  Home canned tomatoes went a long ways in stretching the food budget when feeding five children.  I've been thinking I should can some again when I read all the salt that are added to the canned tomatoes and tomato sauces that we buy off the grocery shelves.  Surely, my home canned tomatoes would be better for us.

One year, when I was growing tomatoes to can, our garden was being overtaken by grasshoppers.  I was very frustrated by the way they were destroying our tomato crop.  My former husband, who was a teacher, was talking about how the grasshoppers were ruining our crop at work one day.  One of his fellow teachers who owned a farm not far from our house said that he had ducks.  He said the ducks ate the grasshoppers before they could destroy his tomatoes.  Based on his experience and observation, we decided that we would have to see if the ducks would help our situation.  My husband drove over to his friend's house, loaded up a couple of ducks in our Ford Pinto, and brought them home.  The kids named them Donald and Daffy.  

I could see the downside to having ducks right away.  Do you have any idea how much of a mess they make in the yard?  I couldn't even let the kids go out in the yard to play.  We had to be very careful and watch where we stepped when we went out to the garden to pick vegetables or fruit from the trees.  I thought it was worth the mess if we got rid of the grasshoppers.  Soon, we had few grasshoppers.  It seemed to be working.  There was just one problem.  I still was not finding any ripe tomatoes.  I would see that tomatoes were nearly ripe, but then I could find any ripe ones to pick a day or two later.  Then, as I was gazing out of my kitchen window as I washed the dishes one evening, I discovered why.  One of the ducks was in the vegetable garden.  He was standing next to the tomato plant where I could clearly see a ripe red tomato.  In just an instant, the duck took the tomato into his mouth and walked away.  The ducks were eating my tomatoes!  

Since the ducks were making a mess, and since the neighbors kept calling and saying, "Your ducks are in our yard again," and since the ducks ate more tomatoes than the now gone grasshoppers had done, we decided our plan was not working.  After the children were all in bed that night, my husband and I loaded the ducks in the back of the car again, took a little ride out to the marshlands, and let the ducks go.  They had been trying to fly away anyway, so we figured they would be much happier where they belonged, and I was happy because now my tomatoes could grow without any disturbances from outside predators.  


Sandi said...

Oh Sally, what memories this brought back to me! I was also a financially struggling housewife and mom of three boys, oh so long ago. I remember picking whatever fruit we could find for free in friends yards, and canning, canning, canning my days and nights away! I canned peaches, pears, applesauce, Royal Anne cherries, blueberries, blackberries and sliced apples for pies. I canned tomatoes, and jams and jellies and I had a steam juicer, too! (I bet I still have it! I know where my pressure cooker is!) I also made many varieties of pickles.
When we moved to another house with a huge garden, I also canned green beans, corn, vegetable soup, you name it. If it grew, I canned it.
Our house had a large walk-in pantry under the basement stairs and into the basement. The shelves were full in the fall, and nearly empty by spring. I can still remember that my husband had me on a $15 per week food budget. It's no wonder I learned to can! I was a coupon queen as well.
Well, no longer married to that guy, and I do very little canning these days!
Right now my mouth is watering for a ripe peach!
Thanks for the fun trip down memory lane!

#1Nana said...

We are swimming in tomatoes. I've frozen them whole and peeled and frozen a lot of tomato sauce. We just had to buy a new freezer! I wish I knew how to can...but I'd probably kill off the family with botulism.

Thisisme. said...

Hi Sally. My goodness, what a story you told there of days gone past! In a way it sounds idyllic to have all that produce right there in your garden, but, gosh, what hard work it must have been, especially with five little ones to look after as well! Lovely photoes as well. So many grapes! Home grown tomatoes have such a wonderful taste . Take care .

LC said...

What a pioneer woman you were. I never learned to can although my mother spent the summer doing just what you described. She continued making fig preserves from two fig trees in her yard into her late 80s. I was always the helper.

I had not even thought about the salt. These days for me that would be an even bigger benefit than the budget stretcher.

Enjoyed the explosion of sensory memories. Did the little #1 football player keep your trademark smile as he grew?

troutbirder said...

Wonderful stories bringing back memories of my mom and all the canning she did. We lived in St. Paul on a city lot but my dad would go early on Saturday mornings to the city farmers market and bring home crates of peaches cherries etc. and veggies too.

DJan said...

Those days of canning must have been long ones. I've never canned, since my mother didn't do that, and I've never had the chance as an adult. Your post made me tired, just reading about five kids and all that picking and canning! :-)

Dee said...

Dear Sally, I so enjoyed this posting as it took me back to when my mom canned. That was during the '40s and '50s and I admit to being astounded that canning continued and that you did all this during the '70s and '80s. Wow!!! Wow!!! Wow!!! and Double Wow!!! Peace.

rosaria williams said...

Ah those fabulous summer days! I wonder how we found the time?

Friko said...

Yes, once upon a time I too grew vegetables and fruit to can, no more. I am really glad I no longer bother. Sure, home-grown stuff is fresh it is very satisfying to see all the bottles lined up on the shelves, but the two of us don't eat enough to make all that work pay off.

Nowadays, I'm happy to do other things. There is one batch of marmalade waiting to be made but that'll be my lot. Possibly for good.

Lynilu said...

What amazing memories those are. This post has sent me into my own memories. I'm going to sit back and enjoy for a bit. :)

laurie said...

wow, were you a busy woman, beautiful memories, hard work but so satisfying,

Chatty Crone said...

I love to hear other women's stories and how they lived and their struggles - it always amazes me what strength you/we women have. Hugs. sandie

Joanne said...

What great memories and pictures! Those grapes were huge! After all the mess of the ducks and to find that they were eating the tomatoes...UGH! My Father-in-law has a peach tree and the squirrels have taken ownership.
Great Post!
Blessings, Joanne

George said...

This post reminded me of the place where I grew up. We had an orchard. There weren't a large number of trees, but we had peaches, apples, pears, and apricots. We didn't have ducks, however, and after reading of your adventures I'm happy we didn't.

Jeanie said...

Sally, what an enchanting post! I love fruit and summer is it, really --all those berries. I have an incomplete post on picking huckleberries. Such a summer tradition. Our poor Michigan cherry crop took a hit this year weatherwise. My raspberries are from somewhere else, and while I may score some Michigan blueberries at the farm market this weekend, I know the season is moving fast. I hope the apples fare well...

Maggie May said...

Loved reading about the ducks and grasshoppers!
You were so lucky having those peached and raspberries. I love those fruits .....also cherries and strawberries.
I haven't heard of anyone being allergic to peaches before. Does that mean you couldn't eat them?
Maggie X

Nuts in May

Linda Myers said...

I canned peaches and pears when we moved from the California desert to southern Oregon in 1980. As I recall ,it was always hot and it took all day and most of the evening. Delicious, though, in the wintertime.

Oregon Gifts of Comfort and Joy said...

Hi Sally, oh, I enjoyed your memories so much! I often wonder how I got so much done in my 30's too. Good thing we had kids when we were young.

Your duck story is great. I LOVED my Grandma T.'s canned peaches. And my Grandma J. canned everything. I have all the stuff for canning, but haven't really used it yet.

My first thought for your tomatoes was making sweet salsa. You could incorporate peaches into it. Have you had mango salsa? I think that you could probably switch the mangos for peaches.

Best of luck with your decisions on what to do, but I know that you will come up with something wonderful.

Have a great week,

Kathy M.

Deb Shucka said...

I love these stories. They made me think of my own gardening/canning/freezing days, and all the satisfactions and annoyances. The ducks made me laugh - I didn't know they ate tomatoes. I wonder if you'll go back to preserving some of your food in retirement, or if you're truly done with that part of your life.

Blissed-Out Grandma said...

Ducks eating tomatoes...who knew? I love peaches and I can still smell them cooking as my mother canned them when I was 5 or 6 years old. Can't imagine doing all that picking in addition to canning. Good for you!

Terri Tiffany said...

I love your memories! We hope to grow a huge a garden next year and I will lean to can again:)) Nothing is better!

becca said...

nothing better then fresh summer fruits and vegetables

Sharon K. Mayhew said...

Thank you for sharing so many memories. I love that you made your own grape juice.

We didn't have a garden this year. It was a good call. The summer has been so hot and dry I don't think anything would have survived.

Mare said...

Wow!! What a great story to read. You were a very busy person.

rosaria williams said...

Oh my, how did you do all that canning and preserving and harvesting? I'm exhausted just reading about it all. Yet, those are our memories, and they come packaged like this, the work, the joy, the frustrations.

I don't like canning, so I bought an upright freezer and we freeze our extra produce and fruit. I use regular freezer bags, and I roast tomatoes before freezing. The flavor is enhanced by roasting with olive oil and thyme and their juices are concentrated.


I'm amazed and impressed at how busy you were canning and preparing fruits from your area. The raspberries have always been a delicacy for us. Very expensive to buy in our area but oh so delicious. I can't imagine having an abundance.
I so appreciate your visiting my blog and for the advice to write what makes me happy. I forgot that for a few months and was making my blog into a job rather than a fun thing to do as it was in the beginning. I'm moving back to my roots now - going to change things up a bit and let it flow naturally.
Thanks for your input.
Loved reading about the "fruits" of your labor. I could so relate to the peaches story as we had only one tree but had tons to make preserves with and many to clean up from the ground.
Have a great day! Barb

Kay said...

Oh gosh, Sally! I'm so jealous! I love fruits and I was really surprised at how much sweeter and amazing they were when picked and eaten right off the tree. What a terrible shame that you were allergic to them. Nowadays we only get lemons... sigh...

Barb said...

This post put a smile on my face, Sally - esp. the story about Daffy and Donald! I am in love with heirloom tomatoes and am trying to eat my fill while they're in season (at Whole Foods - not in my yard!). We're also eating lots of Palisades peaches. I've been so busy the last few weeks - the idea of freezing some entered my mind but then flew right out again! Love your old pics!

Mike said...

Growing tomatoes are easy. Growing peaches on the other hand are a lot more tricky. Tomatoes seem to lost longer too. At least to me. I always find the peaches that I buy go bad quickly. The tomatoes I grow in the summer taste way better then store brought tomatoes.