23 August 2009

Canning Summer

When I was small, the signs of the changing seasons were less artificial than they are now: rather than the arrival of the Target back-to-school ad, the emergence of box upon box of canning jars from the basement heralded the impending close of summer. My mom was a thorough and thoughtful food preservationist, canning bushel upon bushel of beans, tomatoes, and apple sauce while pickling cucumbers in a variety of ways and still finding time to make raspberry jams for the cold weather ahead. At eight years old, canning season annoyed me. There were all those jars to be washed. The water bath made the house unbearably humid. My mom's temper would flair as she attempted to balance preparation for all these different processes. It was a trying time but one that seemed to fade into the background as we ate from these stores throughout the winter.

After some reading, I decided this would be the year I tried my own hand at canning. Armed with my grandmother's phone number, thirty pounds of tomatoes acquired at yesterday's farmer's market, and brand new canning jars, I began the process this morning.

Thirty pounds of tomatoes doesn't look all that intimidating at first. In fact, at ten this morning, I was still convinced that I had scored a great deal: thirty pounds of tomatoes for ten dollars. Thirty pounds of really lovely looking tomatoes from an organic family farm. Three hours later, after peeling all thirty pounds, I was thinking otherwise.

Don't let this picture fool you: I had a large stock pot and another smaller pot filled with these tomato quarters. The LeCrueset happened to be the most photogenic. I love that pot. Is it wrong to love a piece of cookware?

On to Sarah's, where the actual canning would take place. We've made the decision to make this an annual event, having helped her with her tomato canning last year. Along with our friend Yi-Ching, we began boiling jars, simmering lids, and filling said jars with what seemed like a never-ending supply of tomatoes. Thankfully, despite the balmy weather elsewhere, it was a relatively cool day here in Indiana and we were able to throw open the windows and the doors to make our task bearable.

In the end, I canned eleven quarts and six pints of tomatoes, all destined for dinners of chili and spaghetti and just general yumminess. My gram managed to talk us through how to can in the oven, which totally revolutionized our system, allowing us to get through all of my own canning along with all of Sarah's in a little over four hours. Not horrible considering how much we actually put into containers.

The side of my brain that love statistics and numbers is screaming that today probably wasn't all that economical. The money spent on jars, produce, and energy as well as time probably outweigh the money I would spend buying cans of tomatoes at my local market. There is a certain satisfaction in knowing where these jars of red deliciousness come from, that I spent an afternoon with my friends, laughing and telling stories, storing these away for fall's savory soups and winter's thick sauces. It was delightful, though I am thoroughly exhausted. My muscles hurt from yesterday's strength-training class (even my neck - unsure what that means...) and my hands smell like tomato.

Hopefully, I will be able to stay awake long enough to watch the new Mad Men... It's a goal.

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