Some things stay with you forever, no matter how hard you might try to forget them. Sights, sounds, smells, words. You name it. You might not think about them on a daily basis, but they are filed away, ready to jump you at the strangest of times. Things like the scent of glue sticks or the melody of some Bangles song playing in the background the night your first boyfriend broke up with you. You think you've buried them, but they keep rising up and biting you on the ass like directionally-impaired zombies who hunger for your brain.
My personal undead companion of the summer has been a small chunk of lines from T.S. Eliot's "The Love Song of J. Alfred Prufrock." which I learned in high school and, evidently, never quite unlearned. I think of them every time I encounter a peach, which is often, given the season:
I grow old... I grow old...
I shall wear the bottoms of my trousers rolled.
Shall I part my hair behind? Do I dare to eat a peach?
I shall wear white flannel trousers, and walk upon the beach.
I have heard the mermaids singing, each to each.
When I first heard the poem as read to me by a wonderfully hammy, Scottish-brogued English instructor, I didn't take away any sense of Prufrock's failure, isolation, or tortured psyche. No, all I took away at the time was:
What's with the peach? Why can't an old guy eat a damned peach? It's a soft fruit for God's sake. He could probably gum the thing to death.
And then I went back to reading Sylvia Plath because I was so sensitive.
Well, like Mr. Prufrock, I grow old, though I doubt very much that I shall wear the bottoms of my trousers rolled, since I can usually be found in shorts. I am, however, much older than I ever thought I would be. And I happen to like that just fine. It's just that half of the men on my mother's side of the family never made it past their 30's. In a few days, barring accidents, I will have reached 40-- mid-life or, if put into seasonal terms, Midsummer. Not old, but, as I see it, just about right. To borrow from another literary source, I may be, like Miss Jean Brodie minus her attraction to Fascism, in my prime.
I think it more than just coincidence then that Midsummer is when peaches are in their prime. Fully ripened, barely hanging onto the tree, easily bruised, and fuzz to be found in nearly every nook and cranny. God, I'm like a peach in more ways than I had previously imagined. No wonder that bits of a monologue-style poem I learned about an older guy briefly wondering about fruit has come to back haunt me.
And so I leave you with a simple recipe that will help keep me and my fellow peaches in good, supple form for just a little longer than the typical season allows.
Oh, and Mr. Prufrock? Go ahead, eat me. You know you want to.
Brandied Peaches (adapted from the Linton Hopkins recipe at Food & Wine)
What better way to preserve the beauty of a just-ripe peach than with the help of a little alcohol? It's like fruit botox, but vegan.
Serves: 6 to 12
6 small to medium-sized peaches. Free stones. Really, cling stones are a real pain in the ass.
1 ½ cups water
2 cups sugar
2 cups brandy
1 cinnamon stick
1 teaspoon of cardamom
1. Bring a large pot of water to a boil, then reduce to simmering. Cut a small "x" on the bottom of peaches with a sharp knife and gently lower them into the water. Leave the peaches in the water until their skins loosen and their screaming stops. Remove with a slotted spoon and let cool.
2. In a large saucepan, combine sugar, water, cinnamon, and cardamom over high heat, stirring occasionally to ensure that the sugar is dissolved. Simmer for about five minutes, until a lovely syrup is formed. And I do mean lovely.
3. Excorticate peaches when they are cool enough to handle. Cut in half, remove pits (or stones, if you are English or Canadian), then transfer them to a hot, 2-quart canning jar or 2 1-quart canning jars, equally hot.
4. Add brandy to the syrup and bring to a boil. Ladle the hot syrup over the peaches and close the jar(s) tightly. Let cool to room temperature, then refrigerate for at least one week before serving. The pickled peaches can be stored in your refrigerator for up to three months. As if they would really last that long.