Monday, July 19, 2010

Everything's better as butter

When you own a house in LA, chances are it comes with fruit trees.   We've got lemons, oranges, and, due to my margarita/gin & tonic/mojito habit, a newly planted lime tree at our place.   We also have a peach tree.  The first year we lived here, the peach tree didn't do much.    Last year, as June rolled around, we noticed the branches were sprouting lots of little fuzzy nuggets.   Each week, they grew a little bigger, a little rosier, and my mind began imagining the cobblers, the pies, the slices with cinnamon for breakfast.   If you bake...heck, if you eat, you know that a ripe, fresh peach is like nature's ultimate foodie gift.

Pretty soon, I felt like the wicked witch in the Hansel and Gretel story.  The branches were chock full, almost mockingly loaded down.  Every day I went out to the yard, ready for my feast, and every day those peaches were hard as rocks.   I gritted my teeth and waited.   It had to be soon.

I think we might have gone away for the weekend.  Or maybe it did happen overnight.  All I know is I came out one morning and every single peach on that tree was gone.  It had been stripped bare.   Frantic, I searched under every leaf, on every branch of that now completely green tree.  Nothing!

Seething, I made a casual remark to the gardening crew.   Something along the lines of, "Did you happen to harvest several bushels of peaches for me last time you were here?"   They had not.

It was the f***ing squirrels.   They had some kind of inherent "ripeness radar" in those cute little heads of theirs, and it had gone off while I was asleep at the switch.   The fluffy-tailed thieves put the word out and had a big old peach eating hoe down.  They invited the whole family, their long lost cousins, and the guys down the block, too.   I'm sure it was the equivalent of a squirrel tweeting: "open season @#sharon's peach tree 1 nite only pass it on."   Damn them!

So you can imagine how I greeted the appearance of the precious fuzzy nuggets this year.   No way those furry little losers were going near my peaches.  I patrolled the perimeter.   Consulted experts*.   Made obscene, threatening gestures when one of those sneaky buggers crossed my path.  This was war.   And I was going to win.  

Saturday came.   I began my rounds.   The peaches were gorgeous.   The tree was almost groaning under their weight, leaning heavily on the support stakes we'd put up.    Just the sight of all that bounty made my heart beat faster. 

Then I heard it.   A scamper.  Rustling in the branches to my left.   The thud of hastily dropped fruit hitting the earth.   Quick as a wink four bushy tails flew off the tree and onto the nearby fence, where the advance raiding party proceeded to turn and chatter their tiny teeth at me. 

"GET AWAY FROM MY PEACHES YOU, YOU, YOU...NUT JOBS!!!"  I yelled, waving my arms and stamping my feet like a crazy person.   From inside the house, my husband and children, at first alarmed and then hysterical with laughter, began doing imitation "Mommy hates the squirrels" dance moves.

My method might be comical**, but it was effective.  I was alone with the tree.  I reached up, and sure enough, the nearest peach was warm from the sun, perfectly ripe and ready for the picking.  It dropped easily into my hand.   The skin was soft, the color a brilliant blend of red and pink and orange.    I brushed it off gently, closed my eyes and opened my mouth to take a bite of my luscious, marvelous prize.

Yech! Blah! Ugh! Crap!  It was AWFUL!!!  I couldn't spit the stuff out fast enough.  Utterly flavorless, mushy white flesh, oozing horrid juice all over the place.  Worse still, now there was a bitter aftertaste, without the wonderful rich tart-sweet tang I'd been fantasizing about all summer.    This was an absolutely horrible, horrible peach.  I threw it down in disgust, and picked up another one.   Ew!  This was even worse than the first one.    This stupid tree produced the worst excuse for peaches I'd ever eaten in my life!

More chattering from up on the fence.   These little jerks were clearly laughing at me, too***! Well, I would show them!   No matter how vile this fruit was, it was still my fruit.   I proceeded to pick a huge bucket of the things, motivated by pure, venomous, malevolent spite****.

My husband:  Honey, why is there a pile of bad peaches on the counter in the kitchen?
Me: Because I'm going to make something with them. 
My husband:  Uh huh.  What can you make out of bad peaches?
Me:  Alcohol or butter.   I'm online trying to decide which way to go with this batch.
My husband:  OK, well, you're the expert.
Me:  I'm going to go with butter.  It's a shame to waste good vodka on these things.
My husband:  I couldn't agree more.

I peel the peaches.  I slice the peaches.  I crush the peaches with a potato masher.  It looks like someone threw up in the bowl.

My son:  Mom, it looks like someone threw up in there.   You know that, right?
Me:  It'll be fine, trust me.
My son:  I'm just saying!

I get out the food processor.   I put the slimy, mashed up bad peaches in and puree them into a smooth, barf-colored liquid. 

My daughter:  Mom, what is that?  It looks like barf.
Me:  It's peach butter.  Just not yet.
My daughter:  Seems more like peach vomit to me.

I add lemon juice, lemon zest, cinnamon, allspice, nutmeg, apricot nectar, almond extract and brown sugar.   Now it looks like dirt is getting mixed into the vomit.    No one bothers speaking to me about this.   I load the whole mess into the crock pot, set it on high, and walk away.

My husband, a few hours later:  What smells good? Is it the peach vomit?
Me:  Yes, but it's not peach vomit.  It's peach butter.

My son, a few hours after that:   Hey! The peach vomit looks less like fresh puke now.   The color is more like old puke.
Me:  It's peach butter.  And the correct phrase for that color is golden brown.
My son:  Call it what you want, Mom.  It's still not even close to appetizing.  You know that, right?

My daughter, several hours later:  Hey, Mom! Can I stir the peach vomit this time?  Seems like it's almost ready!
Me:  [Sigh] Yeah, go ahead.

After leaving it to cook down through the night, in the morning I have a crock pot full of thick, deep orange, spicy-tangy-sweet, absolutely delicious peach butter.     I pull out my jars, fill them to the brim, and with a satisfying twist of the lid, my victory....over the rascally varmints, over that skanky tease of a tree, is sealed.

Later that day I go out to the yard.   I stand on the lawn and speak loudly and clearly:


A symbolic reenactment of the peach tree truce.  Thank you to my dog for the loan of his squeaky squirrel.  None of the ones in the yard would pose for me.

* The experts say pie tins. Hang pie tins.
** OK, definitely comical.
*** The family was now cracking up over the many faces of horror and revulsion I was making along with with my solo performance piece, "Random furious hurling and spitting."
**** I now have an intensely personal understanding of the Bill Murray character's motivation in Caddyshack.

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