Monday, September 01, 2008

Tomato Day

For the past couple of years, it seems like taking Labor Day off work involves as much work -- if not more! -- than staying in the office.

Why? One word, Dear Readers: tomatoes.

Even though tomatoes started appearing at the farmers' market weeks ago, they're really kicking into high gear, ripening on the vines in vast numbers in a mad rush to reach their peak before first frost.

Over the past few weeks, our CSA shares have regularly included four pounds of tomatoes as well as cherry tomatoes, so I've been able to can tomatoes, tomato sauce, and pizza sauce at a manageable pace.

Until this weekend.

A new Farming Friend generously offered tomatoes to me last week, and I accepted, thinking I'd have enough extra for another round of canning. What she gave me, fresh from the farm she and her husband run on their own (past retirement age, I might add with admiration), was more along the lines of three pecks of tomatoes. (Need help comparing? The four pounds that My Wonderful Parents and I split from our weekly CSA share would fill only half of the basket in the lower part of the photo.)

That, Dear Readers, is a lot of tomatoes. And I'm not ashamed to say that I trembled in the face of all that work -- trembled with delight as well as with that feeling of "what on earth have I gotten myself into?"

But, not wanting to have boxes of tomatoes go rotten on my floor, I got down to work pretty quickly, cranking out a batch of tomato sauce last night and starting up again first thing this morning.

I spread the work into four batches -- two of sauce and two of chopped tomatoes -- and the first three batches filled or almost filled the canner with jars. But by this evening, I was ready to be done with it all, so I cooked the remaining tomatoes, going beyond just the usual big pot and adding a smaller saucepan to hold what was left. This last batch also required dividing the load in the canner as I had too many jars to process all at once.

At last count, I had canned four quarts and seven pints of tomato sauce over the past day...

...and two quarts and thirteen pints (the rest were in the canner when I took the photo) of chopped tomatoes, all put up since this morning.

I thought I knew just how hard canning could be. I thought I had a good sense of what my grandmother and her mother and so on experienced every summer. I thought wrong.

For those who attempt to raise all their own food, to make do as best they can, I'm sure that today's experience was much closer to the reality. And reality is exhausting!

But it's also deeply satisfying. I now have far more tomatoes and tomato products lining my pantry shelves than ever before. (I also still have a handful of fresh tomatoes, thanks to my garden, but I'll probably need to share those with My Wonderful Parents as I've had enough of tomatoes for the time being.) And I will likely have more to add, thanks to my CSA share. That's a lot of food for winter stews, curries, and other good things.

Many thanks and blessings go out to my New Farming Friend, for generously sharing the bounty of her own garden; to My Dear Papa, for taking me to pick up more jars, lids, and lemon juice today; to the Southern Belle, for a garden break; to the Lady Bountiful, for the CSA tomatoes that gave me a jump-start on preserving this year; and to all the others who put up with me in the midst of preservation madness.

And many thanks to all those who work so hard throughout the year to make Labor Day a holiday for us all -- even if I spend it working!

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At 9/02/2008 1:41 PM, Blogger Meryl said...

Phew! Good for you!

I have 20 pounds waiting for me at home tonight....

At 9/02/2008 2:09 PM, Blogger The Baklava Queen said...

Oh, good luck, Meryl! Hope it all goes well!


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