Minnesota Prairie Roots

Writing and photography by Audrey Kletscher Helbling

The Peach Project August 29, 2012

I GREW UP WITH DIRT under my fingernails, banishing weeds from the garden and then, later, harvesting and preparing veggies to eat fresh or preserve.

My mom canned some, froze some, storing away freezer boxes plump with green beans and beets, corn and other vegetables.

She also preserved fruit in quart jars, with the assistance of us kids, for the long Minnesota winter ahead. Applesauce and cherries. Peaches and pears.

A juicy Colorado peach, from which I must remove the skin because I can’t tolerate the fuzz (feels like a cotton ball) in my mouth.

And then, on a brisk winter evening, when Dad was about to come in for supper after finishing barn chores, she would lift the trap door in the kitchen and send one of us clomping down the creaky, rugged wooden steps to the dirt-floored cellar for a jar of sauce. Dessert. I would tug on the frayed cotton string to switch on the single bare light bulb. Then I would tiptoe reach for a jar of my favorite cherries or peaches.

We got a single box of freshly-picked Colorado peaches. When I was growing up, the peaches came in a wood-slat box that was nailed shut. Each peach was wrapped in tissue paper, which we recycled for use in the outhouse.

Those were my thoughts on Saturday when my husband and I picked up a 20-pound crate of peaches I’d ordered several weeks ago through the Cathedral Community Cafe, a Faribault soup kitchen which every Tuesday offers a free meal to those in need and/or seeking fellowship.

It is a worthy cause with some 9,000 dinners served in 2011 and averaging 150 a week this year. The effort involves about 140 volunteers, 12 churches and four teams of workers.

The Community Cathedral Cafe and First English Lutheran youth pre-sold 260 boxes of peaches and ordered an additional 60 to sell to walk-in customers. The peach project has been an ongoing fundraiser for around five years for the cafe and First English youth. About 50 boxes already had been picked up when I photographed this scene.

But like any such organization, the cafe needs money to keep going. The peach project will channel funds into the cafe’s coffers and I’m happy to support the fundraiser by purchasing a $30 crate of fresh Colorado peaches.

A sign outside the Cathedral Guild House directs customers to the peach pick-up point.

Now, what to do with all those fresh peaches. Thus far I’ve eaten many straight from the box. One evening I blended a peach and vanilla ice cream into a smooth shake. This morning I sliced one into my oatmeal. And I’ve also used thinly-sliced peaches to make a ham and peach panini.

I found the adapted sandwich recipe on Sue Ready’s blog and then tweaked it a bit.

Ham and Peach Panini

2 bread slices

deli ham

1 slice provolone cheese

1 thinly-sliced peach

1/2 teaspoon honey

Djon or spicy brown mustard

chopped fresh basil

Spread mustard and 1/2 teaspoon honey on one bread slice. Top with ham, cheese and thin peach slices. Top with chopped basil. Place other piece of bread on top and brush lightly with olive oil. Also brush other bread slice with oil. Grill in frying pan until golden brown, flip and grill other side.

Love, love, love this sandwich. My husband not so much. But he’s more an ordinary sandwich guy and I really had to persuade him to even take a bite.

Now, I expect when I bake a peach crisp or a peach cheesecake later this week, he won’t hesitate to scoop up a sizable helping.

Tyler Welander, 14, who’s raising monies for youth activities at First English, delivers boxes of peaches to vehicles. I suggested to the peach sellers that perhaps they could bake the pies, too, for me to pick up. But one man said, “Oh, that would be down the street at Trinity.” And he would be right. The Trinity Piemakers are currently selling fresh peach, among other, pies.  And since I attend Trinity, I can vouch for the delicious goodness of Trinity pies.

An elderly couple from Farmington ordered nine crates of peaches, seven of which they will deliver to friends.

WHAT’S YOUR FAVORITE peach recipe and what’s the best way to freeze peaches? I’d like to hear.

Click here to reach the website of the Cathedral of Our Merciful Saviour in Faribault, home to the community cafe.

Also, please click here to read a post which features a poem I wrote about canning and the watercolor Zumbrota artist Connie Ludwig created based on my poem. Oh, how I wish “Pantry Jewels” was hanging on my dining room wall.

Copyright 2012 Audrey Kletscher Helbling