August and being in the produce section of the grocery store, seeing all of the fresh, red, beautiful tomatoes, bring back memories of tomato canning season. As a child of Italian/Catholic/Immigrant parents, canning tomatoes was an event, one that included the entire family.
n I tell people that we canned tomatoes, the response is usually, “oh, we canned, too. We’d can about two dozen every year.” Two dozen? Are you kidding me? How about three to four dozen. Yep. You read it right. By the time it was all said and done, our house was lined from top to bottom with beautiful jars of “red sauce”, as our American neighbors referred to them.
This herculean task required bushels and bushels of tomatoes.
Unlike the folks of today, we didn’t just go out and buy our bushels of tomatoes. Oh, heavens, no. We went tomato picking. Another family event. So Ma and Papa would pack the kiddos in the car and off we’d go to some farm. For my mother and father and grandparents, this was a very serious task. For us kids, it was an invitation for fun. And fun we had. We’d pick a few and throw even more at each other.
At the end of the day, we’d pack up our bushels and head home. Then the “real fun” (not really) began. Next morning bright and early all of us, grandparents included, would gather in the yard where we would wash each and every one, scrubbing off any remaining dirt. Each clean tomato would be thrown into the “to be cut pile”. Each tomato would then need to be cut into fours. Those would be thrown into a pot and brought to a boil. And I don’t mean a small little saucepan. I’m talking HUGE pots filled literally to the brim with cut tomatoes. My mother would add a bit of water, fresh basil cut from our garden, salt and pepper. Of course, you had to repeatedly stir the tomatoes or they’d stick to the bottom of the pot thereby ruining an entire “batch”. Like I said, this was serious business.
We’d have at least four of these monstrosities on our small cook top. When they came to a boil, it was time to “deseed”. Now, mind you, I own a machine that does the job for you. Back in my grandmother’s day, no such machine existed. I have no idea how it was done, nor do I want to. This was excruciatingly painful with a machine!!! My father “had a guy” who built us such a machine as back when I was a kid, they didn’t the machine and “deseed” it, after which the mixture would be put back into aforementioned pots and brought to yet another boil upon which the “canning” commenced.
This particular part in the process was just as important. The tomato “sauce” would be ladled into each jar and immediately sealed and tightened. We’d then have to gently place each jar upside down. Yes, upside down, until the next morning.
This entire process would take up an entire weekend, and as a kid, it just wasn’t my cup of tea. I wanted to be like all the other kids on the block and just eat Chef Boyardee. I will tell you, though, that the tradition continues in our home today. The aroma from the boiling pots is wonderful, our daughters join in the fun so it is still a “family affair”, and at the end of it, we are not only exhausted, but closer because of it. And as my father used to say, “Now it can snow”.