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Published: Saturday, 8/2/2008

Mother's pickled peaches deserved a bigger audience

Who hasn't had sweet and savory dreams of developing food for the retail market? Such dreams are developed easily at family gatherings, when traditional tastes come to the fore and are followed by conversation and compliments to whomever brought the old family favorite.

That there is hope for such dreams is fortified by the large number of products that have been developed by ordinary people who had the desire to do more with family favorites than take them to a potluck. Culinary entrepreneurs want to spread the word throughout the world, or the United States, or at least their own neighborhood. At Taste of Toledo, a business on Angola Road near McCord in Holland, the wide range of Toledo and regional products, food and non-food, is impressive.

A recent ad about putting food on the market caught my attention. What food product would I want to put on the market? The ad was a promotion for a potential kitchen incubator in the region. To turn a phrase, they were asking for feedback. Kitchen incubators are shared public spaces with facilities for cooking, baking, freezing, packaging, and storing food. Equally important is help with marketing, accounting, distribution, and government requirements when you are dealing with food for the public.

There is no question that my first attempt would be mother's peach pickles. The label would have to read Aunt Hazel's Peach Pickles. Rarely is there a gathering of the Perkins cousins that my mother's pickled peaches aren't mentioned. Until recently we have been able to buy them as Spiced Peaches, but when I shopped a month ago in several stores with plans to serve them at a family brunch, I could not find them and the sales people I asked had never heard of them. Anything that is that good and not available seems like a candidate for an amateur to market.

As I recall, the peaches were beautiful in the quart jars with whole cloves and cinnamon floating in the juice. At this time of year mother bought several bushels of peaches. She was very particular about the variety, uniform size, and ripeness. As many were pickled as were canned for sauce in winter. I have made them, but they are not the same.

If the marketing bug bit hard enough I might also try to develop green tomato mincemeat. Mother wasn't much of a cake or cookie baker, but she sure could turn out pies including elderberry and green-tomato mincemeat. The best kind was elderberry that must have been two inches deep between short lard crusts. We earned every slice of the seasonal pies because we picked the wild elderberries, and stripping the tiny berries from the stems stained our hands purple. Our hands were a sign that an elderberry pie was on the menu.

You never heard of green-tomato mincemeat? Trust me, it is far better than fried green tomatoes or green-tomato pie. When mother died there were six quarts of the mincemeat in the fruit cellar. Unfortunately, nostalgia got in the way of common sense and I kept them until they spoiled. If I ever want to taste it again I must make it.

To those ideas for market development add corn relish, another back-home favorite that makes delicious use of fresh-off-the-cob Michigan and Ohio sweet corn. I am never without corn relish in the refrigerator, though I confess it is commercial and not homemade.

I could go and on recalling favorite family foods; an aunt's molasses cookies, another aunt's pancakes, grandma's fat noodles and greasy fried cakes dusted with sugar. How could I forget rhubarb sauce?

Perhaps the bottom line is not all about profit, but about the value of food memories that are always on the black side of the ledger.

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