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The First Time Canner

The First Time Canner
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A few weeks ago while taking a quick after-work tour of my vegetable garden I made an important conclusion: I was about to drown in tomatoes. This was a bit of a sea change for me. At the height of gardening season I start thinking of my plants like they’re my own children. And like the kid you hope is going to medical school but instead settles in for a career manning the counter at a video rental store, some tomato plants have been a disapointment. Sometimes the yield is next to nothing. Other times the plants are just knocked out by a blight. Either way, it’s maddening.

This year, however, each of our twelve plants was a success. By late August my wife and I were hauling in pounds and pounds of fruit. We ate a few tomatoes immediately, but much of the bounty sat in baskets or in bags. Our future was obvious: We were going to have to can.

It was new territory for me. Scary territory. Could I do this without giving my family food poisoning, I wondered. Perhaps. I sent out a call to my colleagues here at Yankee, begging, pleading for any extra equipment and a little sage advice. A few minutes later I got a response from Lucille up in production who did indeed have an extra pot and some instructions. A few days later, as Hurricane Irene prepared to barrel into New England, my wife and I fired up the stove and began making what we hope isn’t a batch of botulism come January.

Just one of many hauls from our garden. It’s a small counter to be sure, but still a pretty impressive harvest.

Here, I cut out the stems and then cut a slit down the side of each tomato. I wasn’t all that fast at it, as my wife liked to remind me.

My next course of action was to blanch the tomatoes so I could easily remove their skins. I’d prefer not to mention how many times I dropped a tomato into the boiling water and then had said water splash on me. It hurt. I’m a wimp.


 I was suprised: The skins did come off very easily. (Those hands belong to my wife, who, not suprisingly, wasn’t all that thrilled when I brought out the camera for this project.)

I started to work the food mill, until I was “fired” by my wife. Again, I think I wasn’t going fast enough. It’s a brutal business, this canning stuff.

Let there be sauce! I know a picture is a worth a thousands words and all, but no photo can capture the yelling my suddenly awake ten-month old son, Calvin, was making when this picture was taken. Really. He was loud.

Fast-forward 20 minutes. After a fairly unsucessful round of consoling, I brought Calvin downstairs to watch us can. Um, he wasn’t all that impressed.


 While Calvin slept, we worked on, washing out the jars and lids, putting them in a hot bath of water, and then finally, filling them up with sauce. Only a little bit made it on the counter, something I chalk up as a major accomplishment.

Finished! (Sort of.) After stirring in two tablespoons of lemon juice and then processing the six quarts of sauce in a boiling bath of water for some 50 minutes, I was ready to call it a night. The real test will come this winter, of course, but the finished product, I think, least looks great.

Ian Aldrich


Ian Aldrich


Senior editor of Yankee Magazine: Ian, a native New Englander who has worked and freelanced for Yankee for the past decade, writes feature stories, home pieces, and helps manage the magazine's up-front section, First Light. His stories have ranged from exploring the community impact from a church poisoning in a small town in northern Maine to dissecting the difficulties facing Nantucket around its problems with erosion. In addition to his connection to Yankee, Ian worked as a senior editor of Cincinnati Magazine for several years.
Updated Friday, September 16th, 2011

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One Response to The First Time Canner

  1. Laurie September 16, 2011 at 11:54 am #

    Love it! I’m moving to New Ipswich soon. Just took my Master Food Preservers Course from Cornell. Would love to teach some classes there when we get settled. Would you like an invite??? You did well!!!!

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