The First Time Canner
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.