Gonna eat a lot of peaches

This post is for Michael, you know who you are! Well, we’ve moved to the country, and this year we’re sure going to eat a lot of peaches! We spent a very pleasant day yesterday with our friend, Ivan, preserving his year’s peach harvest, making 42 large jars of peaches in a thin syrup, ready for winter.

It started off innocuously enough, as most things do here in Bulgaria. “Do you like peach compote?” Ivan asked, one night at the bar. “Sure”, we replied. “Great”, he said, “come round to my house tomorrow morning and bring some jars”.

So, we turned up at 11am with our four jars, wondering what we were going to be up to this day. Ivan then proceeded to show us his peach trees. Loads of them, all bursting with fruit, ready to drop. He’d already done all he needed for the year, and was offering to help us make a Bulgarian preserve with the rest of his crop. We showed him our four jars and he laughed, asked if we had about forty more jars, and then said we’d have to do it at our house as that’s where the jars are. But first, we drink. So out came the rakia, and we spent the next couple of hours getting slowly drunk and eating tomatoes from his garden, sitting in the dappled shade of his grape vines.

Ivan’s garden is fantastic, laid out with typical Bulgarian efficiency, making use of shade from his many fruit trees to grow tomatoes, cucumbers, peppers and chillies. He showed us his irrigation system, and explained how he doesn’t plant anything near to the plum trees as there is a parasitic bug that will infest any tomatoes, grapes or soft fruits planted near it.

Once he seemed happy with the amount of rakia we had drunk, we set to collecting the peaches, then gathered up sharp knives and spare lids for the jars, then retreated to our house to process them. This was done quickly, chopping the washed peaches into the jars, adding four tablespoons of sugar to each jar and then topping up with water. We stuck some lids on, sealed them and put them all into a huge pan of water, underneath which we built a big fire to boil, sterilise and seal the jars. Ivan showed us how to run a knife or spoon around the lids of any jars that failed to seal properly the first time around, and to put a towel at the bottom of the pan to stop the jars touching hot spots in the pan.

With the fire lit, we settled down for a few beers and some salad from our own garden, while we stoked the fire. Once a boil had been achieved, we had to leave the jars to boil for twenty minutes, and then fished them all out to cool, turning them upside-down to create a good vacuum seal. And there we had it, forty two jars of canned peaches ready for winter puddings and cakes.

I asked Ivan if he always preserved peaches in this way, and he said yes, explaining that he always does all his peaches in one go, and can’t afford for an experiment to not work, in case he looses the lot. So every year, he always makes the same things from what he grows.

After dropping Ivan off back at his house with his lids and knives, Julie and I cleared away the remains of our meal. It had been a lovely afternoon, and we’d learned loads, improved our Bulgarian language skills, and got a lot of food set aside for winter. We finished of with a nice warm bath each in the left-over hot water from boiling the jars.

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