If teachers, aunts, uncles and even parents can (and do!) have favorite kids, then farmers can most certainly have a favorite fruit of their labors. For the Urban Farmer, I would put my money on the gallon jug of deep amber honey, hard earned with swollen hands and cheeks after suffering the consequences of riled bees. For yours truly, a meager farmhand, it’s the juicy, bulbous tomatoes.
From the very beginning of summer, the combination of rain on the vines emits such a tempting smell, so nostalgic, some have tried to capture its essence in candle form (anyone verified it yet?). As the summer days zoom past, the vines become an enchanted land unto themselves, so thick and stubborn as to create a cave filled with sweet rewards. Try to reshape their structures, and metal stakes will snap in defeat.
Pick one, eat two. Pick one, eat two. The sweet juiciness is instant gratification on long, hot days and a reminder of living in the moment. The sad winter counterparts, hardly even a distant relative of summer’s gorgeous heirlooms, will never, ever be as fulfilling, nor should they be.
These beauties are also a lesson in planning. The seedlings are so tempting. Plant them all! Cram them in! Let’s eat nothing but tomatoes! Then seedlings grow into climbing vines, and the space recommendations come back to haunt. I’m starting to see why some farms devote themselves entirely to these fruits.
In other rows, the peppers have proven to be valiant competitors for attention. Unfortunately, the ever hungry groundhogs seem to have taken notice and helped themselves. They are a constant battle.
Despite the appetites of our eyes and the desire to savor the tomato season, we couldn’t keep up. Too many tomatoes were rotting before we could eat them or cook them, so one afternoon, as he is apt to do, the Urban Farmer rather spontaneously decided to dive into canning.
I grew up with basement shelves full of jars, bright red and speckled with seeds. My mom would grind the stewed tomatoes through the strainer and store tomato juice, which my dad would sip all year long, often mixing it with non-alcoholic beer (odd, yes, a bit before his time? Maybe.) Despite this childhood backdrop, the idea of canning has always given me great pause.
As a girl who cuts around mold, uses expired dairy on purpose, sniffs, shrugs and eats, I tend to shy away from methods that require extreme sanitation. Since the Urban Farmer only recently began to see the virtues of using dish soap and not just water, he wasn’t exactly the mentor I would have requested. Nonetheless, with a dining room full of tomatoes, we had to do plunge ahead.
Another obstacle I had always used as an excuse was the issue of canning supplies, but our local hardware store had a simple “Jar Lifter” tool that did the trick. With plenty of tomatoes, a large stock pot and said tool, the excuses on my list had run thin, so we began to make some really seedy, juicy messes.
It was a hot, sweaty, messy process, one we are not even entirely sure we did 100% correctly, but despite all that, I felt a little adrenaline rush, akin to fearing a tattoo and then immediately plotting a second ink session. I even snagged this book from a display shelf at the library. Fate!
These processes we abandoned in the face of fast and easy conveniences, have a certain, romanticized charm to them, but the reality is work, really hard work. We have still wasted more than we should have this season, and our two jars severely pale in comparison to our grandmothers, but each step is a step in the right direction.
There’s no sense reinventing the wheel on this method since we followed Pretty Prudent’s guide to Canning Tomatoes pretty closely, so head over and there and say I sent you. Cracking into these jars this winter will be a sweet reward for the sweaty afternoon of steaming pots and messes.
Here’s to winter tomatoes!