Summer Stories

Preserving & savoring

Dear bread pals,

I am full of stories, always, but every Labor Day I remember cataloging my summer experiences to figure which topic would make the best back-to-school essay. I always wanted to deliver a novel of all I’d seen and done: the blackberries I picked and the bike rides I took; the view from the Ferris Wheel at the county fair. The Schaghticoke Fairgrounds are across the highway from my school and the ride gave me a frightening perspective of how big the world might be and how little I ordinarily saw of it. Another topic I could write about was how the powdered sugar from fried dough felt different from sticky drips of ice cream.

In 1976, I wanted to write about seeing the tall ships in Newport, Rhode Island, and also, the absurd reality my family had to absorb immediately afterward: that my grandparents were killed when an ambulance hit their car. How could I write about that? It was unbelievable. Still is.

I wanted to tell my teachers about the first fireflies I caught, which would have been before school let out in June, so, not really eligible for telling. And there were things I didn’t want to tell, the secrets I accumulated as I got older: bike rides to places I wouldn’t tell my parents I went.

When I was 30 and pregnant with my first child, I wrote the story of one summer’s lies and truths. I sent the writing to a friend, and he offered to give it to an editor, for publication. I was horrified. I didn’t want to share this in the broad sense, just wanted to get the words on paper before I became a mother. I thought that having a child would transform me unrecognizably and I wanted to catch my perspective. My unadulterated self – as I considered her – needed to preserve her understanding of that experience. Surprisingly, motherhood did not squish me into someone who was not me; somewhere in my computer files I might be able to find that essay, if I wanted. I don’t.

What I’d rather explore is other ideas about preserving. The first time I made peach jam, I was intimidated by the process of canning but in love with the idea of capturing these miniature suns, proof of summer, in jars. I bought a case of peaches in a supermarket parking lot – guys from Eastern Washington brought over pickup trucks of lush fruit.

The recipes I read had a lot of sugar and it seemed kind of insane to put jars into boiling water, let them simmer, and take them out! So, I used a low sugar pectin. And I decided I could get away with not canning.

I hardly let myself eat any of the perfect peaches because I needed to preserve them. A few months after summer I discovered that I’d created the perfect environment to grow a white and green crown underneath each lid. How I wished I’d enjoyed more of those precious peaches fresh!

This year, I made peach preserves by following a recipe and canning them properly. I also ate fresh peaches and made a peach pie and shared it with friends the last Friday night in August, kissing summer goodbye. We are getting together again tonight, one more round of togetherness before the school season steals us. I’ve made a sourdough pizza dough from the “Southern Ground” cookbook. I used Farmer Ground Flour, and the rounds feel pretty nice.

These peaches, some brown and withered, some pink and dotted, hide under their leaves on a tree in my yard; the imperfections of an unsprayed fruit tree in the Northeast. The first image is from an orchard I visited yesterday.

Earlier today I was tempted to hunt down the last Kirby cucumbers and make another batch of pickles, but I thought I’d muse about what we are saving and savoring instead. It is so easy to go overboard and try to cram the season into a jar! I have to remind myself over and over of that peach lesson, and enjoy things right now, rather than sock everything away for some future I might not reach.

If I were writing an essay on Wednesday, the first day of school in our district, my topic sentence would be this: Isn’t bread more ephemeral than pickles or jam? I’m old enough to know I can’t cram my summer into an essay, let alone a letter, so I’ll just stick to the last little while, and tell you, all of my bread classmates & teachers, that Friday, I made six loaves and already two of them are gone!

Bread is like paper. Toast is a letter that your body reads. Sandwiches are envelopes for sustenance, and ideas. The daily paper, so to speak, in my household comes from this recipe, my friend Adrian Hale’s Communal Loaf. But I’m loving using recipes in “Southern Ground” — so many opportunities to bake with different people in that book! And I’m also gearing up to teach another round of Baking By Touch with Ellie Markovitch for Sourdough September. Stay tuned for details.

Tomorrow I will find some more cucumbers so my boy Felix can add homemade pickles to his cheese sandwiches. Cucumbers are not as evocative as peaches, but they still deliver sunshine: Felix loves them so much that his face cracks open into a smile when he eats. No need to can those moments in a hot water bath. Because I’ve preserved, and presented them to you.

Yours, Amy