The air is so heavy, you’re swimming (ok, so that’s a little cliché, but it’s true)
You’re not sure if you’re swimming more through the air or tomatoes
The abundance of life is nearly overwhelming
Yesterday I breathed abundance. It was tomato canning time. This is a time that comes on you like a blizzard. You know there’s a storm out there, and you think you’re prepared for it until all of a sudden it’s on you and you can’t see. I had made plans to visit family this week in Tennessee for my son Cedar to spend time with his cousins. By Wednesday, it became clear that the farm had other plans for us this week. When the tomatoes are ready, they’re ready; there’s not much else you can do. So I rolled up my sleeves (ok, so I actually changed into a tank top), enlisted help, and got to work. I’m grateful for my mother-in-law’s kitchen, which is well suited for tomato canning because of the positioning of the stove and skink, but more importantly, because of the air conditioning. Our house is quite pleasant most of the time without A/C, but not when there are multiple steam baths happening throughout the day for multiple days.
If you don’t start canning tomatoes in the morning, it’s hardly worth it; it’s definitely an all-day/ multiple day process. Just the set up takes awhile: getting the pressure canner out from the basement, collecting the pots and pans, jars, spices, lids, screw-bands, funnel, etc. and washing everything before you even start. Then there’s the beauty of being immersed forearm deep in red fleshy pulp for hours as you rinse, sort and get the skins off and begin whatever recipes you choose to follow.
The next day, I had help from our friend and crew member Lisa, who did a lot of the heavy lifting of the traditional way to get skins off tomatoes: dunk them in boiling water for 30-60 seconds (though we found it was quite a bit longer than that), until the skins crack, then transfer them into cold water, where the skins are supposed to slip off, but often, you have to coax them along a bit, core them and dump them in a large cauldron for cooking. Lisa’s presence didn’t just help physically, but it makes the experience so much more pleasant when you have company. We made stewed tomatoes for canning in the pressure canner.
Pressure canning isn’t my favorite because there’s so much wait time. You have to wait for the steam to vent, then wait till pressure is reached, then you get to start the actual “canning” time, then wait till the pressure goes down naturally, then wait a little longer, then take the lid off, then wait ten more minutes before you can take the jars out to cool. One of the things that amazes me about pressure canning is how long the heat stays in the tomatoes afterwards. I canned two batches, and the first batch was still boiling in their jars (yes, the inside of the jar actually boils!) as I was taking the second batch out of the canner—well over an hour later.
During some of this waiting time, I was able to head outside with Cedar for a short walk to the spaghetti squash patch, where the crew was harvesting. It was refreshing to have my field of vision quickly change from every share of red and orange to verdant green: trees, grass, plants & corn stalks, with a blue sky compliment. We “field processed” the spaghetti squash this year: we pulled our new wagon into the weeds (um, I mean squash patch), harvested onto one side of the wagon, washed them right there, dried and put them in their storage containers, ready for market. Now when we need them, they’re ready to go. Brilliant.
I know I’m getting a little cheesy, but really, what if we could all give ourselves over to that flow every day? I for one relish the connection to spirit that I experience when I’m able to give myself over to the natural rhythm of the farm. To the life of a tomato. To the beauty of a gleaming jar of freshly canned tomatoes, or the taste of homemade spicy ketchup.