Peach Pit Jesus

A Cook’s Notebook

by Ali Berlow

A Cook’s Notebook

Fae Kontje-Gibbs

The woman told me she’d seen Jesus in a peach pit. ‘It’s true’ she said ‘and well-documented’ pointing gnarly knuckles towards a yellowed newspaper clipping taped to the inside of her fruit stand.

And there it was—a picture of her blessed neighbor—Miss Lorraine Mills, holding the relic pit between thumb and forefinger while peering gravely, mistrustingly at the camera. Apparently, Jesus revealed his image from out of the dregs of her homemade spirits. Once the word got out, believers from all over came to see His face in the crevices of that peach pit. Dried bits of pulp clung to the fruit’s stone like hair and a beard. But all this was years ago and the people have stopped coming by in pilgrimage to the farm stand. Besides, Miss Lorraine’s been dead now for quite awhile and rumor has it she took the pit to her grave. Now it’s mostly tourists who speed by this roadside stand on their way to resorts like Hilton Head, off the coast of South Carolina. ‘It’s where they flock to,’ snarked the fruit monger, ‘for the golf courses and the swimming pools’.

Every summer she puts up the peaches that don’t sell and makes wine for those who want something a little stronger. She herself quit hard drinking after witnessing the Peach-Pit Jesus and takes a good, long squinty-eyed look at every little craggy pit she pulls. She was grateful for my business and poured me a capful of wine to try just so I’d know what I was getting into and she took a little sip, ‘Medicinal…and to reassure you I ain’t-gonna-kill-ya’ she chortled. The original liquor store price tag was still on the used whisky flask, $9.95. I gave her four dollars for wine the color of honey and nearly as thick.

This summer I put up peaches for the first time. I started with a small batch. Eight or so of the best ones I could find and followed a Low Country recipe that seemed easy enough. I boiled the peaches for about a minute and then plunged them in cold water—this made peeling the fuzzy skin easy, and into a sick kind
of pleasure like peeling the skin off a sunburn. Then I stuck each one with some cloves and simmered them whole in a mixture of white vinegar, sugar, cinnamon sticks and ginger. After a little time cooking on the stove, the astringent steam gave way to the lusty smell of ripe fruit.

Careful so as not to bruise them, I gently placed each one into mason jars and poured the warm liquid over them. The yellow globes push against the glass—buoyant in the pinkish-rose-colored juice. The darkened specks of clove and swollen lengths of cinnamon bark hang suspended, caught in the in-between.

Now the jars sit in coolness of my dark cellar until I’ll serve them with ham or a roast turkey. Meanwhile, in these heady days of summer, when even the cicadas start to sound weary, I eat my share of peaches and wonder if I will ever find Jesus.