Nina Furstenau: You’re listening to Canned Peaches from KBIA. I’m Nina Mukerjee Furstenau.
We’re trekking through farms, forests and faraway kitchens exploring five ingredients.
Come with us - to discover how communities locally and globally are intertwined through food.
Nina Furstenau: Canned peaches not only preserve the fruit, but also time. The memory, the smell, the summer sun are all captured when the lid is sealed. But the past year has been rough for peaches. People are driving for hours in search of fresh ones.
In our namesake episode, Canned Peaches, we’re going to find how canned peaches connect people through a complex food web that crosses time and space.
Nina Furstenau: Canning is a big part of this story. But it’d be best if we started with the fruit itself. So, I have with me producer Lauren Hines-Acosta (Uh-coast-uh). She reported on this episode.
Lauren Hines-Acosta: Thanks for inviting me to the studio, Nina.
Nina Furstenau: Alright, so where did peaches get their start?
Lauren Hines-Acosta: Peaches are actually from China. Over time, they spread through Asia and then the Mediterranean and onto Europe. Peaches didn’t come to the Americas until the Spanish took them to the New World in the 1600s. Today, the major suppliers are China, Italy, Spain and the US.
Nina Furstenau: Right, and we even have peaches in the Midwest.
[sounds of peach farm and inside a cabin]
We wanted to try some. So producers Janet Saidi and Alex Cox went with me to see a locally famous farm called Peach Tree Farm. It’s in Boonville, Missouri run by Judy and Bruce Arnett.
They first showed us a historic cabin located on their property.
[sounds of entering a cabin] “Step inside and take a look”
[sounds of a door]
Janet Saidi: But the gentleman just arrived one, right? There's such a huge demand.
Judy Arnett: That is a good question. They were a little bit different than a lot of orchards. If you go to a lot of orchard markets, you'll find that they have picked their peaches, they're back in the cooler. We don't do that, we actually pick our peaches ripe and sell them without putting them in a cooler. And so people really love the peaches because of that reason because we pick them ripe.
Alex Cox: Sounds like a weird question framing wise, but what is someone's like a typical reaction when they bite into one of your peaches?
Judy Arnett: Oh, it's like lean over. They're not expecting all the juice that's coming out. We had this little lady she used to come every year not seen her for a while so but she would come and her husband said nobody can eat in her car. But she will take her hat and put it under her. So she can eat on the way home. I thought that was sweet. So they're very juicy.
Lauren Hines-Acosta: We wanted to test that juicy theory, so Judy drove us over to the orchard from the cabin.
[sound of car doors closing and arriving at orchard]
[sound of the farm] “Oh look at the trees…”
Nina Furstenau: Well, there's something quite serene about a peach orchard.
Judy Arnett: Yeah. It can you know, when you're out and pick in with somebody you know, and just visiting. It’s nice.
Nina Furstenau: So you’ve had a busy summer with this going on
Judy Arnett: It is busy, it is busy. And, you know, it's an interest interesting life, I will say.
Bruce Arnett: You think everything, every single variety that we have tastes different than the variety before it or after it. And so, you know, after a while, you know, in long enough, you can tell what it is just by the taste of it more the look of it, they're all a little different, they all have a little different acidity, they have different sugar content. Every peaches, every variety is different than the variety after it. Cresthaven probably would be my favorite. They’re really top of the line, quality peach.
Nina Furstenau: I really want to buy peaches. So can I do it? When I get back up here?
Judy Arnett: I can put some together for you if you would like
Janet Saidi: What time did they show up at the farmers market tomorrow?
Judy Arnett: There are some people that are -
Bruce Arnett: You really need to experience it.
Judy Arnett: Oh, yeah. No, it's in Columbia Farmers market.
Bruce Arnett: If you have not experienced it, believe me you need to…
Janet Saidi: But when you say you have to experience it
Bruce Arnett: It's a life of its own, you just you almost can't describe it. If you go, you'll know what I'm talking about just to show up, show up in the morning by eight o'clock you don't know what I'm talking about. And you won't be sorry you did. Because it's a site that you've never seen before. So it's kind of it's kind of interesting. It's fun.
Lauren Hines-Acosta: I heard you got to try one of their peaches. What was it like?
Nina Furstenau: *describes taste/smell/touch*
Lauren Hines-Acosta: It seems Judy and Bruce have had to deal with frost problems.
Nina Furstenau: Yes, well peaches need it to be hot. Missouri’s hot days are perfect for them. But peaches just aren’t built for the amount of rain and frost we got this year. Many southern and midwestern states are losing their peaches to frost. Georgia’s main export isn’t actually peaches. But the state did lose 90% of its peach crops this year to frost according to horticulturalists at the University of Georgia.
Lauren Hines-Acosta: Oh wow, so where are people getting their peaches?
Nina Furstenau: Well peaches will still be in grocery stores. But some people drive hours to markets to get fresh ones.
[sounds of Columbia’s Farmer’s Market]
Our producer Janet Saidi visited Columbia’s Farmer’s Market. She found Peach Tree Farm always has a long line with people coming from Illinois, Texas and other parts of Missouri.
Janet Saidi: Hi do y’all want to tell me why you’re getting peaches in line? I’m Janet from public radio.
Jacqueline Sumida: Yeah for sure. My name is Jacqueline Sumida. And we woke up at like 7 this
morning because we really wanted some peaches. My friend here is from southern Missouri and all the peaches there got wiped out this year, so we wanted to give the Columbia peaches a try.
Janet Saidi: Oh that’s really smart. How did you know to do that?
Jacqueline Sumida: She’s really into the farmer’s market and stuff and we’ve been hearing about the peaches a lot. It was a good chance to come over and we like going to the farmers market anyway so it’s a good opportunity overall.
Janet Saidi: What do you like about the farmer’s market?
Jacqueline Sumida: There’s a lot of fresh fruit. I’m originally from the Chicago suburbs where there’s not a lot of fresh fruit around or you have to drive two hours south to get anywhere close to it. So it’s nice to have some fresh fruit around for a low cost. And you’re supporting local farms and vendors which is always good.
Janet Saidi: It looks like your peach dream is about to come true.
Jacqueline Sumida: We’re lucky. I had to run to the bank to get cash too.
Janet Saidi: You’re going to make it. Thank you so much.
[more sounds of Columbia’s Farmer’s Market]
Janet Saidi: We're doing a food podcast.
Jeremy Root: Okay
Janet Saidi: That's like Cover Story but it's about food.
Jeremy Root: Okay
Janet Saidi: We're looking at how food connects us five ingredients and one of them is peaches. Okay, so it's just a regular thing for you to get your hands on?
Jeremy Root: Yeah, we come here every Saturday to get peaches and are willing to wait in the line for about 150 people deep today. You know, we just eat them. Sometimes we freeze them. Sometimes we make pies. And it's really a hallmark of summer flavors for us and our family.
Janet Saidi: Why are you willing to wait in line?
Jeremy Root: Because of the quality of the peaches because we like to support the farmers. And it's nice to be with the community as we all gathered to try and eat peaches.
Janet Saidi: It's really interesting to see the line in some ways maybe is a bonus and not such a bad thing. Like being with a whole bunch of people getting pages and getting the same thing.
Jeremy Root: Yeah, I think one of the things I love about the Farmers Market is that it brings people together and you know it's a seasonal rhythm. And part of the rhythm is waiting in line for peaches in July and August.
Nina Furstenau: Let’s take a moment to reflect how pervasive food is in our cultures. The image of food evokes more than taste. It gives insight to history, place and identity. And literature shows how connected food can be to all those and more. Let’s listen to an excerpt.
[reading of the excerpt]
Nina Furstenau: Okay, so now we know a bit about the peaches themselves. I think it’s time to shift gears. Lauren, what can you tell me about canned peaches?
Lauren Hines-Acosta: Well to start, preservation methods have been around a long time.
In North America, Native Americans used methods like drying and grounding food based on their traditions and ecosystem. But canning really emerged to feed soldiers fighting abroad. In France, Napoleon even offered a cash prize in 1795 to anyone who could improve food preservation to feed his army.
Nina Furstenau: Right, and we see canned goods as a big part of military rations in World War One. Canned peaches were a favorite, according to the Library of Congress. They were part of civilian life. And unlike canned meat, peaches reminded soldiers of home.
Lauren Hines-Acosta: Yes, exactly. I talked with food historian Anna Zeide. She wrote a book called, Canned: The Rise and Fall of Consumer Confidence in the American Food Industry. She argues that canned food became more popular because canning industry leaders wanted to build confidence in their products. So, they used scientific expertise and collaborations with public institutions.
Nina Furstenau: What do you mean by that?
Lauren Hines-Acosta: Well, at first, commercially canned food was unfamiliar to many Americans. People didn’t know where the food in these opaque tin containers came from. But in the early 20th century, the canning industry really tried to earn people’s trust. They looked to outside institutions--like public health departments, pure food regulations, home economists, agricultural and bacteriological sciences. They wanted an external stamp of approval. Then with the Great Depression, consumers had begun to embrace these canned foods.
Fast forward to after World War II: grocery store shelves were stocked with commercially canned foods. Anna told me that from there came other packaged and processed foods, and many used the canning industry's methods. Anna says that’s what’s led to our current highly-processed food system today.
Nina Furstenau: So how did we get to canning today? What does it look like now?
Lauren Hines-Acosta: Well, I talked with Claire Schmidt. She’s a folklorist from Missouri Valley College. Claire pointed out that people tend to return to canning when things get scary. We saw this when canning got big during the 2008 recession. And we saw it during the pandemic in 2020. I talked with Claire in July a little bit about that and what else canning can tell us.
Claire Schmidt: I think we see also in in the prepping sort of subcultures in the United States. You know, whatever different prepper families or groups, or online communities are, are preparing for, there's a lot of fear. There's a lot of fear of governments or fear of war or fear of, of any number of things. And so I think canning is a way of taking that fear, however logical it may or may not be, and managing that anxiety through labor, as well. So I think different people can for different reasons, but I think people get similar satisfaction out of it. Whether it's the auditory joy of hearing the jar pop, or going down in the basement and looking at all the colors and just the sheer quantity or contrast of what you've accomplished.
Lauren Hines-Acosta: I was wondering if you could go into kind of like, what is modern canning look like today? And why is it here?
Claire Schmidt: That's a really interesting question. I think people can, when people can, for a lot of reasons…I think canning is a little bit about time travel, in terms of food and time travel, but then I think it's also about time travel, in terms of memory, and our memory of other people. So when you can things seasonally, you know, you might only smell that smell once or twice a year and it's always at the same time of year. And so that smell takes you back to the last time you did it or the first time you did it…So I think it allows us to go back and be with people that we can't be with anymore. And so, like I have a grandmother, who, you know, some of my earliest memories of her our candidate is canning field corn, which is like most people don't eat feel corn because it doesn't taste good. But she did and, and she would talk about peaches because she was born in Missouri, even though we were all in Wisconsin. And so you know, she is on hospice now. So I can't see her, I can't talk to her. But when I do these things, I'm back with her a little bit. So I think canning brings us back to people.”
Nina Furstenau: Wow, what an amazing history of canning, and family, and labor, and food. All in a can of peaches.
So, we’ve tried to follow how these foods get from our farms to our kitchens. But it can be easy to skip or forget what happens in the middle and how that connects so many people.
Lauren Hines-Acosta: Yeah, I didn’t really think about that until diving into canned peaches. It’s like one big food web.
Nina Furstenau: Yeah, so I thought it’d be good if we visited a cannery. The team and I went to the Kansas City Canning Company in August, which sells lovely vanilla bourbon peach preserves. It’s run by Tim Tuohy. He gave us a tour and we got to see how his canned goods were made.
[sounds of Kansas City Canning Company cannery]
[canning machine whirring]
Nina Furstenau: So I was really intrigued because you can before you grew up canning, tell me a little bit more about that.
Tim Tuohy: So I grew up in New Jersey. And that's why I talk like this. It sounds like I got peanut butter on my mouth sometimes. But my dad and our neighbors both had little gardens in the backyard. My neighbors Joan and Frank were first generation Italian. And at the end of each growing season, it was mostly tomatoes. We do canning, but it was mostly tomatoes back then…And fast forward multiple lives since then. But I was a teacher in New York, I ended up getting laid off after the 2008 crash. And I went to culinary school. went to culinary school in New York at the Institute of Culinary Education eventually moved out here. And I wanted to start my own business… I saw a niche in specialty foods and we started putting stuff in jars and that was going on nine years ago. So while we do try to the main goal is to reduce as much food waste as possible. And with our limited capacity, we do our best to do exactly that.
Nina Furstenau: Okay, so I have several questions. So when you were canning as a child, what about that process really got your imagination or made you because you stuck with it your many years now. So what brought you back to canning specifically?
Tim Tuohy: That there's a nostalgia to it? It's something that I think fondly of, and you know, that process…And it was one of the cool aspects about what we do is that often you'll have people come up and say, I used to can with my grandmother, I used to do this with that, you know, so and so back on their farm somewhere. And it there's a connection to the past that people can actually identify with, because it has that nostalgia to it, I think fondly about spending time in the garden with my dad and picking the tomatoes and spending time with John and Frank across the street. And really, it's quality time doing activities and with the community.
Nina Furstenau: Yes. Sounds like as connected with nostalgia, the work it was the people you were working with.
Tim Tuohy: Yeah, exactly. And quality time with those people. Yeah.
Lauren Hines-Acosta OR Nina: After Nina and the team saw how the food was canned, Tim took them outside to his makeshift warehouse that felt like a large shipping container. Much of the floor was cluttered with orders.
[sound of going outside]
[sound of going into shipping containers]
Nina Furstenau: tell me about where we're standing right now,
Tim Tuohy: this is our finished product. Again, use the term lightly warehouse. But this one, we have some protection from the heat and the sun. It doesn't get too hot in the summer, and it doesn't freeze in the winter. And I'm actually standing on our shipping and receiving table. So all of the boxes and shipments that go all over the country all come from come out of here.
Nina Furstenau: So each of these jars are just so beautiful. I'm looking at the colors and the shapes and the textures that I can almost, I can't feel them, but I feel like I can.
Nina Furstenau: You know, when you mentioned sustainable use of foods, what I was thinking of, it just connected me to when you mentioned community before, because I feel like that is what sustains us, right? Not only what we're eating, but the ways we produces produce it and your memories around community when you were young, feels like that's something you're trying to pass on to me.
Tim Tuohy: And I'm the I think the extension of that is being transplant to the Midwest, it's kind of an effort to for me to build my own community of chosen family and yet, just like we used to, we, you know, we pick the tomatoes and everything and do everything from top to bottom at home back in the day. But now, you know, work with the farmers like yesterday, Mike Pearl, one of the farmers that we work with the most he stopped by to drop off a bunch of heirloom tomatoes, so we can make bruschetta. And then he'll be back through at the end. The end of the week. We say hi to each other at the market every weekend. And, you know, these these relationships are what sustains us. And I mean, he's a significant example to he's Mike Pearl is a yeoman's Pearl family farms in Parkville, which is a stone's throw away…. But the thought of having, you know, a family owned, privately owned black farm, a stone's throw away and being able to work with him is it connects us to some sort of history. It's kind of cool.
Lauren Hines-Acosta: So it seems canning also touches on eliminating food waste and getting food back to people.
Nina Furstenau: Yeah, I really liked how he used food to build a community for himself.
Lauren Hines-Acosta: Okay, so where are we going next?
Nina Furstenau: Judy from Peach Tree Farm gave me a wonderful peach cobbler recipe.
[Judy describing recipe] “If you take a cup of flour, a cup of sugar, a cup of milk, and a tablespoon of baking powder, and you whisk it up till it's mixed really well. And you pour your peaches with juice in the bottom of your nine by 13 pan and you pour this over the top. it bakes up just like a nice little cakey cobbler, you know, not the pie crust cobbler. And then when I get it out of the oven, I sprinkled cinnamon and sugar over the top. And it's nice because when you have company coming like kind of unexpectedly, you can quickly whip that up and you've got a peach dessert that's really easy and really delicious.”
Nina Furstenau: So, I thought we could revisit when we made it in my kitchen as our final stop. Cassandra Loftlin is the cofounder of Goodness Gracious food co-operative in Georgia. She was visiting me to learn more about journalism and helped me cook the cobbler.
[Sounds of making peach cobbler] “So Cassandra you want to help me…”
[sounds of cutting peaches]
Lauren Hines-Acosta: How do you to think food connects people?
Nina Furstenau: Well, you see us right here in my kitchen connecting very well over flour, sugar, butter, and baking soy powder. Anything else?
Cassandra Loftlin: Yeah, you can't be angry and eat at the same time. You ever seen anyone argue over breakfast? You know, eaten waffle? It's hard to do because you're happy. Awesome.
Nina Furstenau: That's so true. Oh, my goodness. So you know, there's this thing where, you know, they say if you want to get to know someone you sit at their table, but I always say yes, you sit, you sit in their kitchen, because that's when you really see how things get done in their world and how they feel about everything. So I think that's true here too.
[sound of closing the oven and setting the time]
[sound of getting the oven open]
Nina Furstenau: Should we taste? It’s cakey…..Alright I think I’m ready. That’s really good.
Cassandra Loftlin: It’s delicious.
Nina Furstenau: Even though we thought that was too much sugar.
Cassandra Loftlin: It’s enough
Lauren Hines-Acosta: What does it taste like?
Nina Furstenau: Like summery in a bite.
Cassandra Loftlin: Yeah, warm gooey goodness
Nina Furstenau: Canning has a deep history which reveals how we’re connected through a complex food web. But it’s canned peaches that truly capture memory and time. That sweet syrup and vibrant yellow pulls us together and gives us comfort.
Canned Peaches is produced by Lauren Hines-Acosta, Janet Saidi, and me, Nina Mukerjee Furstenau, with production help from Yasha Mikolojczak and Alex Cox.
The series is written by Lauren Hines-Acosta and Janet Saidi.
Our editor is Aaron Hay.
Thanks to Lauren Hines-Acosta for co-hosting this episode with me.
Canned Peaches is a project of the Missouri News Network at the Missouri School of Journalism, Vox Magazine, Harvest Public Media. And KBIA.
Our engagement and outreach team is led by Jessica Vaughn Martin, Kassidy Arena, and Professor Kara Edgerson.
Special thanks to Harvest Public Media’s Maria Altman, Vox Magazine’s Heather Isherwood, and the Missouri School of Journalism’s Lee Hills Chair in Free-Press Studies Professor Kathy Kiely.
Canned Peaches is produced with support from Missouri Humanities and the Missouri Humanities Trust Fund.
On Canned Peaches we’re exploring how we’re all connected through the food on our plates.
For more episodes, go to KBIA.org.
And you can see more stories from Canned Peaches at VoxMagazine.com.
I’m Nina Mukerjee Furstenau. Thanks for listening. See you next time.