Grit Blogs > Pennsylvania Adventures

Pea Brush and Peaches

Pea Brush and Peaches

VernMid June arrived and I must digress from my normal mode of blogging. To this point, I took on the role of a ten year old back in Pennsylvania, following Dad and Mom around as they planted the garden. They taught me well.

Back here in Illinois our garden and orchard are looking better and healthier than any I ever witnessed, even back home. I must confess, without the awesome help from God in the form of mother nature, none of this is possible. Our state is in the path of all the bad storms that are generated from the south and west. We benefit by a lot of rain and cool temperatures. To date, this area and north to Chicago, an excess of nine inches of rain over normal totals has fallen, and it is only mid June. All this results in one fabulous garden. There is so much I want to say, I don't know where to begin.  

I relocated to Kankakee, Illinois in January of 2008 after marrying Deanna, a lifelong resident. It didn't take long for my farming and gardening instincts to kick in. There is space for a vegetable garden and maybe a few fruit trees. The only down side to this opportunity was the fact that I had two bad knees. Notice the word had. I did not want to quit gardening and become a couch potato. I am a pro-active man and decided to build raised beds to make my passion easier. Also along the same line of thought; knee replacement. The raised beds were built by a friend while we overwintered in Florida. A surgeon was contacted and knee replacement was discussed. Now five and one half years later, I am a new man; a new happy man.

Most of the gardening is contained in four 2x4x8 foot raised beds, and this year thanks to a relative I added another bed 2x4x16. As I write this blog all five beds are brimming with fresh vegetables ready for the taking.

Let me begin with the peas. Two completed beds have been planted, one shell-out peas and the other sugar snap peas. Conditions have been perfect and within a few weeks we will be eating fresh peas and new potatoes from the garden. That brings back a memory, and also an urge to share a recipe.

Allow me to start with a memory from 1952. I was twelve and big enough to pick peas, along with a two-year-older sister and younger brother. Long rows of peas were planted and picked. Night time found the whole family on the big front porch shelling peas, having fun and making some of the best memories of all. Supper the next evening consisted of some form of meat and a big pot full of new peas and potatoes. Dad was very protective of the potato crop, and Mom would always convince him to dig out a few stalks to add to the fresh peas. They were smaller and tender, but oh so good.

Mom cooked the potatoes and peas until tender, poured off the water, added a stick of Oleo and a quart of whole milk, then reheated everything. Just thinking about it makes my mouth water. I will relive that memory very soon here in Kankakee.

While I am on the subject of peas, allow me to explain pea brush. It's really very simple. When the peas had grown a couple of inches and tendrils appeared on top, Dad went through one of his rituals that I still choose to do. There is always  a brush pile somewhere on any farm; that's just the way it is. He would proceed to cut branches about two feet long containing  a lot of little branches. They were then stuck into the soil in the pea row. The result; the peas grew onto and up the branches. This kept them from rotting, they got air circulation, and it made picking so much easier.        

Back here in Kankakee, the early cabbage is growing like crazy. I planted four plants very early, and they just love the cool wet weather afforded them. The beds are four foot wide. I have two in a row, and they are touching in the center and over the outer edge. They along with some others outside the boxes will be included in another memory; making  sauerkraut. October is a good time to start. the weather is cooler and the cabbage is ready to burst.

I use one of the old time slicers where the entire head is slid across sharp blades which produce equal sized shreds of cabbage. I will weigh out twelve pounds, slice it, add four tablespoons of regular table salt and the job is almost done. After thoroughly mixing it is placed into a three gallon crock, a couple hands-full at a time, and stomped with a stomper or whatever you can find, until juice appears. Continue this until the crock is full, making sure the brine completely covers all the cabbage. Place a small dinner plate upside down on the cut cabbage, followed by a gallon jug of water for weight. Cover and place in a cool location 68-72 degrees for four or five weeks. After this time remove an inch or two from the top, discard and do a taste test. I believe you will like the results. Canning or freezing are two good ways of storage.

Sometime around Thanksgiving or New Years Day, uncap a couple of quarts and place in a big roaster. On top of this place a fresh  seven or eight pound pork roast, set the oven at 325 and forget it for four hours. Serve with some smooth, buttery, home grown mashed potatoes and a quart of canned fresh peas from your own garden. Life doesn't get any better.   

Earlier in this blog I made a statement when seeing Deanna's property for the first time "there is space for a vegetable garden and some fruit trees."  Somewhere along the line I forgot what the word some means. As of this date we have twenty-five fruit trees. Sometimes I count and forget where they all are planted. Apple, cherry, peach, pear, plum, chestnut and fig, all are somewhere on this less than a acre plot of land.

Leviticus 19:23 declares that for three years fruit shall not be eaten; it must remain on the tree. I started planting peach trees in 2009 and this is now the fourth year. The abundance of fruit on most of the older trees is unbelievable. There are apples and cherries where before we had none. The peach crop is absolutely unbelievable. The trees (eight) are so heavily laden with fruit that I have thinned all, and propped up the first tree I ever planted.

Thinning a peach tree is not for the faint of heart. For the health of the tree, no less than 90% must be removed. It is a tough thing to do for a beginner, and when not accomplished, there are disastrous results. Heavy thunder storms and high winds will break and tear off the tender limbs of a peach tree. Fruit should be the size of a quarter before thinning is accomplished, and space between peaches should be at least five or six inches. This will insure that the tree remains healthy this year and in the future. I also insures that the fruits will be larger, ripe and juicy.

I must digress again and tell a story.

Deanna was helping me thin the crop, and after awhile I noticed she was advancing much quicker than I. Some branches are solid fruit, touching each other on either side. It is not a fast job. I inquire as to how she was moving so fast. Her reply; I am only removing the tiny brown ones that come off easy. I feel like an abortionist, killing all those baby fruits. Thinning her portion of the tree was necessary when she was not present.

I am eagerly looking forward to a new experience when the hot days of August produce an abundance of rosy-cheeked, sweet peaches. Hot peach pie, sprinkled with nutmeg and smothered in whole milk--God is good.