“How do you do that without cutting your finger with the knife?” Vivi asked me while I was peeling peaches at the sink.
“You don’t put any force behind the knife. You just use the edge of the paring knife to bump the skin up a little bit then pull it away from the peach.”
“Can I try?”
I considered it for half a second. “No, this takes a lot of practice. You can help me cut them up and make the cobbler, how about that?”
She thought that was a fine idea and went back to her Kindle. My mom brought a half-bushel of peaches to us on Friday night. I’ve already given a big bowl to Anna and a big bowl to Heather. Now Vivi and I will spend a rainy Sunday afternoon making a simple cobbler.
As I stood there peeling peaches with the little paring knife I got for Christmas twenty years ago, I thought about Anna and how she had already turned her share into peach jam. She must know some fast way to peel peaches. I bet she does that flash boil then ice bath to make the skins slide right off. I don’t remember my mom or my dad doing it that way.
How DID I learn to hold a knife this was and find that sweet spot between hacking away at the fruit and gently convincing the peel to slide away? I had to have learned it from my parents, but I don’t remember a specific lesson. Just watching and learning and deciding to try. And doing it wrong for a while until it clicked.
My hand started cramping up after about five peaches and I thought about boiling a big pot of water for the rest of them. I’ve got all the things that would make it easy to do–boiling pots and slotted spoons and a ready supply of ice from the freezer. But I kept on doing it the slow way, the meditative way.
Because when I peel peaches the slow way, I can get lost in my thoughts. As I shift from foot to foot in front of the sink, I think about how Mr. Aaron Dees installed my Grandmama Irene’s sink and kitchen counters about six inches lower to suit her petite size. And how she had him switch the hot and cold water taps because she is left-handed. I remember Grandmama Eunice’s deep white enamel sink and how she kept tin pans in there to catch the grease or scraps. How she slung the water out the back door after cleaning up. What was that plant she fed with the greasy water–a hydrangea or a scrabbly old nandinas? I think about selling peaches by the highway with Jeffrey. I remember the prices for the different sizes of baskets–$2 for the little quart with the green edge; $3.50 for the red gallon, $5 for a peck. I remember sitting in a folding chair under the tent at the peach stand and hearing The Police sing “Every Breath You Take” for the first time. I think about how Aunt Dixie pickled peaches with little cloves floating in the juice and the beauty of a laundry room shelf filled with golden jars at the end of summer.
I like peeling peaches the slow way, at least once a summer. I get lost in stories. I find that balance on the knife-edge of memory,not using too much force, letting the fruit emerge. Just the way someone must have taught me along the way.
We pull out the flour and the baking powder and the sugar. Vivi gets to press the buttons on the microwave to melt the butter. She stirs together the dry ingredients. She gets to pinch the salt. I pour out the milk and she pours it into the bowl. She stirs. She learns how to find the TBSP in a draw cluttered with a lifetime of kitchen tools, including her Great Grandmama Eunice’s biscuit cutter. She reads the instructions off my laptop screen. I point out the right size pot and we boil peaches and sugar and a little lemon juice into a syrup. She scatters a little too much cinnamon over the top. I stir it in and no harm, no foul. We layer the butter and the batter and the peaches in a white baking pan that I’ll probably pass along to her one day when she’s got her first apartment. Big Gay gave this one to me for Christmas the year I moved into my first place.
Twenty years from now, Vivi will make a peach cobbler on a rainy afternoon. She won’t even remember how and when she learned how to do it. But I will have taught her the slow way, somewhere along the way.
P.S.: We used the Southern Living recipe for “Easy Peach Cobbler.” Two yums up!