This is a story about pigs, and peaches, and what happens when you're not paying attention.
There's a farmer in a neighboring town who gets paid to haul away lesser quality produce, which then gets dumped in a big pile on the family farm. A phone tree is activated, and you may get a phone call telling you that pears and mangoes just arrived, come and get some. The first year we lived here, I got such a call but couldn't come right away. I got down there one or two days later to find an enormous mountain of rotting fruit with two enormous hogs laying in the pile. I'm sure I thought something along the lines of Oh no, never this! Get me out of here. The farmer's dad shooed the pork away and started to help me scavenge the bruised fruit for a few pieces that still maintained some qualities of being edible. I think I went home empty handed. Calls would still come in every few weeks, but I could never drop what I was doing and come right away before the fruit went bad beyond all hope, and besides...PIGS!
Oh thank you, but I just bought a box of apples, uh huh, yes, and we're concerned about a possible guava allergy. Maybe next time.
Now let me say here that I'm first in line for a bushel of tomatoes that are seconds, and am really not a terrible snob about these things. However, food quality is near and dear to my heart. In general, I'm okay with food that has been laying on the ground, but not for several days after being picked and left to ferment or get rained on.
I stayed one step ahead and eventually the calls came less and less. Yes, the fruit was free, but it felt like I was beating the game by not having to scavenge around for bad fruit amidst the swine. It was better than free.
Then, last weekend I was at a family reunion and stopped off at a fruit farm to buy a box of beautiful canning peaches at an excellent price. I had to laugh when we arrived home to find a two day old message about a truck load of rejected peaches. Ugh! Those thing were probably sun ripened to mush by now.
About a week later, my friend Miriam stopped by to drop something off. She's an older lady in our community, a widow with all of her chicks having flown the coop but one single daughter who dislikes gardening and canning, but loves children. I offered to come over and help with canning if her daughter would watch Little Mister, and a mutually accommodating deal was struck. One Monday morning I donned my apron, gathered my tomatoes and jars in a big tub and arrived for a productive day. We worked splendidly, knocking out my tomatoes and then tackling bushels of peaches and apples that Miriam had picked from the mountain of rejected fruit on that farm. Some of the peaches were in such bad condition that as you peeled them, they dissolved right in your hands. The fruit flies were in worshipful awe. I was surprised when Miriam told me that some of the jarred quarts of peaches would be donated to a benefit auction where they go for around $30 a jar. Well, that's fine for some worthy cause, I guess. Also, pork prices are up, so the hogs have been sold and at least the fruit is now pig-free.
Things went quite smoothly with our canning session, and we got to talking about getting one other person for a possible chow chow day. That would really be helpful, as chow chow is on my preserving wish list this year. I did a wish list instead of a to-do list, since I didn't know how how I would balance the needs of Little Mister with lengthy food projects that are planned, pickled, and executed solely by me. Maybe when this season is all over, I'll do a follow up report on how it all went with my list.
As I was about to leave, we noted that a few of the jars had some undissolved sugar in the bottom. It seemed to really bother Miriam, so I told her I would take them if she didn't want them. "Oh, I plan to give you all the peaches, but for a few for the auction," she told me.
Sigh. Those rotting peaches I just peeled were coming to my house to live. For so long I beat the free fruit game. But you really can't beat free.