Canning Tomatoes and Other Painful Processes.

September 1, 2008 at 8:00 pm (Books, Family, Uncategorized, Visit) (, , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , )

By Eydie Wight

The joy's of Canning

I got up fairly early this morning for me (who lives in the twilight realm of the permanent night shift worker) and the morning was so stunningly gorgeous that I actually stopped in mid shuffle to the coffee pot and noticed it. Usually the house could have been completely ransacked or have burned to the ground or there could be an insane grinning clown or flesh eating zombie waiting in the living room as I passed by and I would merely nod good morning, mumble something that ended in coffee and pass by. I’m not an all day gotta keep the buzz going cup in my hand constantly need caffeine kind of gal (unlike my Brother John), but me and my first cup have a religious communion. Sammy had opened up the windows yesterday to let in a little fresh air and save the air conditioning while I was blanching Lima beans for freezing and then canning tomato pieces. (More about that later.) But this morning, this morning was simply FINE. I did get my coffee and went out on the deck. It was cool and the mist was still hanging in the hollows. Our plumpest hummingbird was perched on the rail above her feeder. She was chirping away and gorging herself on the sugar water, preparing for the long trip south that is coming soon. When I leaned against the deck rail she hovered about two feet from my face. Probably it was the multi flowered coffee cup, or maybe the tie-dyed tee shirt of Sammy’s I’d thrown on.

After coffee I started in on the house chores. Guido (the fish) was, of course, near starvation and kept butting the glass of the fish tank to get my attention. I hung out the laundry Sammy had washed last night. We’ve had this big maroon towel for ages and the thing STILL will find the one white pair of socks or underwear or hand towel in the wash load and cleave to it until it’s nicely pink. I can firmly attest to the statement that, in Sammy’s case, real men DO wear pink. Especially when they do laundry.

Today, Labor Day, is my self declared day of rest. I did make a “To Do” list yesterday, and I have wandered over a few times this morning to look at it. It is an orderly and well executed list, but I am mutinous today and will resist its allure.

Sara Donati's Into The Wilderness

I had been down at my mom and dad’s last week helping them out after my dad’s knee replacement surgery (more about that later too) and we came back late Saturday night with two carloads of stuff. There were several boxes of produce I had canned and blanched for our freezer while I was there. I also had taken my fiddle and mandolin, chords and lyrics book, my canner in case we needed another one, all my work stuff as I’d gone there right form work, my pillow, four books I never got around to reading, a bag of clothes, my kit bag, the laptop, and my poetry book manuscript for mom to see. Sammy had come down Friday night and brought his clothes, kit bag, pillow, more canning jars, and coolers. We also brought home a gunny sack of green peppers, hot peppers, and cucumbers, a large plastic bag of shelled Lima beans, and a five gallon bucket of tomatoes. By the time all was unpacked it was after midnight. I have to say that, after five nights in the wonderfully antique slat bed in mom and dad’s guest room that creaks with every little movement and would drop slats were it not for the fact that my mom stuffed everything she could fit under it when they knew I was coming, I was ready for my own bed. I lay down on top of the soft, soft quilt that Sammy’s had forever (and may be one of the reasons I married him), stretched out in a few synchronized swimming moves, opened my book (Sara Donati’s Into the Wilderness), and then vaguely remember Sammy taking off my glasses and picking the book up off my face. The home bed is good. It loves me.

That was Saturday night. Yesterday, Sunday, when God rested, I didn’t. I started by blanching Lima beans so they could go in the freezer. I didn’t have many, about two quarts of shelled beans, so it was a quick and easy matter of boiling them at a roiling boil for three minutes, immersing them in the cold water bath in the sink for three minutes, and packing them in pint bags. I then put on the stove to heat three pans of water. The biggest kettle, the medium kettle, and a saucepan. The Goldilocks of canning. While the water heated I hung out a load of laundry. It was time for the tomatoes. This is the point where Brother John should add some dire and doomy music. Canning tomatoes is simple, but it is a time consuming pain. The tomatoes are first washed off, then dipped in boiling water for half a minute or until the skins crack. I don’t have a nice canning basket (Christmas anyone? Mom? Sammy? This is your subtle hint…) so I used an old metal colander that I held with tongs in a death grip to dip the tomatoes. After dipping, the tomatoes go into a cold water bath for a minute. Doing this causes the skins to slip right off. They are then cored, skinned, and cut into pieces. This takes time and the kitchen was hot and sticky and I got a little grumpy. Sammy was out tarring the shed roof so that it doesn’t leak on the shelf where Big Fat Sherman and Mr. Carter sleep. I peeled and cored and skinned and skinned and cored and peeled until the small cuts on my hands (from picking Lima beans) stung from the tomato acid. While that was going on I had canning lids, rings, and jars in a kettle of hot (not boiling water). Once the tomatoes were ready I packed them tightly in the hot jars, using a spatula to remove any air in the pack. I added two tablespoons of white vinegar (dad does grow one low acid variety of tomato and so do we) to the top and a teaspoon of salt, leaving a half inch of head room. I put the hot lids and rings on, hand tightened them, and put the jars in the big kettle of hot water. The jars needed to be covered with an inch of water and I had maybe a gallon and a half too much water in my kettle so I dipped that excess out. I brought the water to a rolling boil and set the timer for 45 minutes after the actual boil had first started.

Then I washed my hands, took a much needed bathroom break and headed out to Sammy to grump some. The day was so beautiful that I had to forestall my grumpage and instead admire the patch job on the shed. I went back inside and washed the green peppers, dried them off, and put them in freezer bags to go in the freezer. Green peppers are simply preserved this way and can be used for cooking dishes or for stuffed peppers for several months. The hot peppers I strung on cotton cord and hung from a hook in the kitchen to dry. They dry nicely for cooking and look good, as long as they don’t hang somewhere that is dusty! I did, as Brother John can well sympathize, forget to rub a little cooking oil on my fingers before handling the peppers. Let me just say that my dad grows hot peppers that greet for the sinners in hell. Half a pepper nicely puts the heat in fifteen quarts of tomato juice. Well, I strung all those peppers, and then unthinkingly rubbed my mouth with my hand. And then rubbed my eye when the heat from my mouth brought tears to it. And then explained to Sammy, who had come inside, why I was crying and cursing as I hauled jars of tomatoes out and set them on a tea towel to cool. (My dad always puts another towel on top of the hot jars to shield them from drafts as they cool. I do too now that I saw him do that. I call it “tuck the babbies in luv”.

After all that, my loving super hubby Sammy rubbed my feet and then took me out in the cool evening air for a country ride to chase the sunset. We stopped at a neighbor’ to give her some blackberry jam, pickled beets, and tomato juice, and to talk to her son about cutting firewood off one of their farms. She gave us some peach jam and four cups of frozen blueberries from her bushes. We stopped at our “egg lady” to get some brown eggs but they were away for the holiday weekend. We did peek at her plump and happy chickens as they prepared to roost for the night. Eggs from these happy “free range” chickens (Beekeeper Dan raises them too) are like nothing that comes from the grocery store. The yolks are dark yellow, huge, and rich tasting.

When we go on our rides we seldom have a destination or route in mind. Usually we take roads as they catch our fancy, always looking for some little back road that, by chance, we’ve never been on before. In the evenings we try to head westerly. Last evening we were truly God led because we saw some of the loveliest meadows, mountain creeks, crop fields, a covered bridge, and beautifully kept farms. The sunset wasn’t spectacular, but it was ruby red. As we got out of the car the Milky Way stretched across the sky and Sammy saw a shooting star. The evening had the faintest hint of the autumn, crisp air and the smell of falling leaves, and I felt both honored and blessed in my life. I had a glass of Beekeeper Dan’s homemade strawberry/blueberry wine, listened to the Country Gentlemen singing “Fox on the Run”, the next tune I want to learn on the mandolin or fiddle, and Sammy took the book off my nose before midnight.

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