Peach-Pit Jesus + Recipe for Spiced Peaches
By Ali Berlow
The woman told me she'd seen Jesus in a peach pit. 'It's true' she said 'and well-documented' nodding to the yellowed newspaper clipping taped to the side of her fruit stand.
There it was — a picture of her blessed neighbor — a Miss Lorraine Mills, holding the pit in one hand and pointing to it with the other. Apparently, Jesus revealed his image from out of the dregs of her homemade peach wine. Once the word got out, believers came from all over to see His face in the crevices of that peach pit. But that was years ago and the people have stopped coming. Besides, Miss Lorraine's been dead now for quite awhile and rumor has it she took the pit with her. Now it's mostly tourists who pass by this roadside stand on their way to resorts like Hilton Head, off the coast of South Carolina. 'It's where they flock to' said the fruit-lady 'for the golf courses and the swimming pools'.
Every summer she puts up the peaches that don't sell and makes wine for those who stop and want something a little stronger. But she quit drinking after witnessing the Peach-Pit Jesus and takes a good, long squinty-eyed look at every little craggy seed she pulls. She was glad for my business and poured me a capful of wine to try, just so I'd know what I was getting and she took a little sip too, 'to reassure me' she said. The original liquor store price tag was still on the used whisky flask. It read $9.95. She filled it up and I gave her $4.00 for wine the color of honey and nearly as thick.
This summer I put up peaches for the first time in my life. I started with a small batch. Eight or so of the best ones I could find and followed a Low Country recipe from the South that seemed easy enough. I boiled the peaches for about a minute and then plunged them in cold water — this made peeling the fuzzy skin easy, and into a sick kind of pleasure like peeling the skin off a sunburn. Then I stuck each one with cloves and simmered them whole in a mixture of white vinegar, sugar, cinnamon sticks and ginger. After a little time cooking on the stove, the astringent steam gave way to the lusty smell of ripe fruit.
Careful so as not to bruise them, I gently placed each of the peaches, one by one, into mason jars and poured the warm liquid over them.
The pale yellow globes push against the glass — buoyant in the pinkish-rose colored juice. The darkened specks of clove and swollen lengths of cinnamon bark hang suspended, caught in the in-between. The whole thing becomes the color of the fruit-lady's homemade wine, only deconstructed.
Today, the jars sit in coolness of my dark cellar until the winter months, when I'll serve them with ham or a roast turkey. Meanwhile, in these last, fading days of summer, where even the cicadas sound weary, I eat my share of peaches and wonder if I will ever find Jesus.
Adapted from Hoppin’ John’s Low Country Cooking by John Martin Taylor
Equipment required: 2-3 – 1 quart mason ball jars (wide-mouth works well) - sterilized
8-10 small to medium perfectly ripe, but firm peaches with no blemishes, or the blemishes cut away
2 cups of white vinegar
5 cups sugar
2 cinnamon sticks
2 inch piece of fresh ginger – peeled and sliced or a 2-inch piece of crystallized ginger
3-5 whole black pepper corns
3-5 whole allspice
Drop the peaches in boiling water for about one minute.
Plunge them into cold water. Peel them and stick a whole clove into each one.
Bring the remaining ingredients (including optional pepper corns and allspice if using). Add peeled peaches and cook uncovered over a low boil until they’re tender, about 20 minutes.
Divide peaches between the jars – gently placing the fruit so as not to bruise it and pour the warm liquid over them. Divide spices between the jars.
Store in a cool, dark pantry or the refrigerator,
Serve with ham or roast turkey. John Martin Taylor suggests using the extra liquid for candied yams.