Tuesday, September 22, 2009

The Fingernails of a Tomato Canner are Orange

After 4 months of hosting a tomato garden, I have famously lost interest in the whole endeavor. The dozen or so tomatoes I handpicked out of my garden in August were delicious and satisfying. But, they are now ripening at an alarming rate; appearing everywhere, decorating the plants like Christmas bulbs. Only it’s not Christmas. It’s “Canning Time” and like Lucy and Ethel on the candy assembly line—I can’t keep up.

Although I’ve never “canned” anything in my life, friends and websites assured me that it was easy. So I took 20 lbs. out of my fridge and studied the recipe.

Directions to Can Tomatoes:

1. Start cauldron filled with 4 gallons of water to boil using 2 side-by-side burners

2. Run jars in dishwasher cycle

3. Put lids in water to boil

4. Put tomatoes in a large pot of boiling water, and then thrust them into a large ice bath so peels will be easy to remove.

By this 4th step, I have some notes to add:

Some peels came off of some tomatoes. The others needed to be peeled with a potato peeler. Peeling the skin off a mushy tomato is a bit like shaving an inflated balloon. The tomato skin is taut, but unexpectedly your finger (or the peeler edge) ruptures the peel, causing the inner red-orange, seeded goo to escape and fly. I’ve plumbed and been squirted by so many tomatoes, my kitchen looks like a bloody scene from “Grey’s Anatomy.” On the bright side, I think I may have invented a new art form.

The recipe reads on:

5. Core and cut peeled tomatoes into smaller wedges.

I liken the “Hold down the Slippery Tomato in Order to cut it” maneuver to that of Ms. Pac Man trying to gobble the ghosts before the time is up. This step could be a game by assigning a child, equipped with baseball mitt, to catch rocketing tomato pop-flies.

6. Into sterilized jars, put tomatoes in within ¼ inch of the top. Put in lemon juice and fill with boiling water.

7. Place jars with lids in water cauldron and boil for 45 minutes.

8. Remove and let cool. Jars will be sealed when you hear a “ping” signifying a proper, safe seal.

I listened, and waited...4 hours, but I didn’t hear a single “ping.” Doubt has now been cast as to whether the proper, safe seal has been achieved. Will I give my family botchulism? Will I be known as the notorious Heidi the Poisoner?

Anyone interested in one of my quarts of homegrown tomatoes? If not, you can get the same size jar at Piggly Wiggly for $1.98.

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