Tomatoes are where the whole foodie thing started for me. I realized back in college, some 20 years ago, that they were really only worth eating when they were in season where I lived and not trucked in. Since then, not only have I almost always had a little spot of tomatoes growing somewhere, I’ve learned how to put them up, so I can eat my tomatoes all year long. I started canning well over a decade ago, having scooped up a canning pot at a rummage sale for a song, then took a food preservation class up at Monticello one Saturday morning. I’ve taught countless friends how to can over the years too. I’m really uptight about knowing where our food comes from and how it’s packaged, so canning is essential to me.
When Edie & I visited Pete and Renee in June I mentioned I was in the market for a new canner – mine was starting to get some rust spots. Renee pulled hers out of the shed and gave it to me, as well as bunch of jars. Mine was quite a bit larger, but I realized, they hold the same number of jars! (I think my big old one is meant for quart jars, while I prefer to can in pint jars.) Yesterday was the first time I used the new canner, and while there were some adjustments to it, I really liked it. For starters, my old one was so big that it took over an hour to get it to come to a boil from the time I filled it up and set it on the stove. I would center it over 2 burners and crank them up and that would speed up the process, but it would make the kitchen just ungodly hot. With the new one from Renee, it fits beautifully on one burner and takes about half the time to heat up. Of course, canning is a hot process, especially tomatoes, because you have to process them in a hot water bath for 45 minutes. Which means, boiling them for 45 minutes. It wasn’t quite as hot as it has been here, but it still is August and this is Virginia, so putting up 27 pounds of tomatoes wasn’t the coolest thing I could have done, but come January and February, when I open some of those jars, I’m going to sniff in the smell of August and remember how hot I was, how hot the kitchen was that day. As someone who is always freezing during the winter, it generally raises my inner core at least 5 degrees to just smell that jar.
That’s what 27 pounds of tomatoes look like, in a box. They were ‘scratch & dent’ tomatoes at the farmer’s market, which is the way to go if you are buying tomatoes to put up. Last winter we went through not quite 4 cases of tomatoes. I yielded 18 pint jars yesterday – a case and a half, so I will need to spend at least one more afternoon in the kitchen, maybe two before the end of the growing season, just for tomatoes. I still need to put up some peaches and I’m getting requests for more of my green bean pickles.
I usually do supplement what we grow, as our garden is small. This year though, the squirrels have been completely & totally out of hand. I suppose it’s how hot & dry it’s been (dry as in, no rain, not dry heat), has been a factor, although their crawling up the screen doors and yelling at me while I’m standing in my kitchen does seem a bit over the top. They’ve stripped all my tomato plants of any fruit, leaving me pretty ticked off. They also got everything off the peach tree and I’m sure a good portion of the cherry tree, although they did have to battle it out with some birds who kept attacking them everytime they went near the tree. (That was pretty funny to watch too and kept us entertained for a few weeks.). It’s man vs. nature here these days, as we curse the squirrels. I grabbed the very last green tomato off the vine the other day for us, but it’s August, there are still blooms on the plants and I am still holding out hope we can eventually triumph over the squirrels. Sadly, living in the city means we can’t shoot them, but I’m hoping Edie’s picked up enough archery skills at camp this summer to want to practice on them when she gets back.