Wednesday, August 27, 2008

Recipe for a Mess

So the tomatoes arrived. And I dealt with them. That's the short story. The longer version involves me questioning (on multiple occasions yesterday) why the heck I'd ever thought to pre-order two bushels of tomatoes this past April. In my defence, I'd just given birth. Maybe it was the sleep deprivation.

Despite imagining myself prepared to can, I discovered almost immediately upon returning home with these masses of tomatoes that I had no new lids; or, more precisely, the new lids that I did have (see--I knew I had lids!) were an odd size, which is probably why they were hanging around unused in our basement. My knowledge of canning is admittedly limited, but I do know the lids need to be new. So after a fabulously delicious and simple supper of hamburgers (local), sliced tomatoes, and corn on the cob (CSA), I sent Kevin and kids on a walk uptown to find lids. And bottled lemon juice, which I also discovered I lacked. While they were out, I washed the dishes, and the jars, and set up the canner on the stove, along with another large pot of simmering water for loosening the tomato skins, a small pot of simmering water for the lids, and a pot of cold water nearby for cooling the tomatoes before removing their skins. And I filled the kettle. And started washing the tomatoes. Our kitchen renovation makes all of this set-up ridiculously easy. There's room for everything, and I didn't even have to clear the island of the day's extra collected junk (A's pocket flashlight; receipts; two containers of driveway tomatoes, et cetera).

By the time Kevin and kids returned home, I'd already filled several jars with whole and halved, skinned and cored tomatoes. He'd found one packet of lids in the entire grocery store. So that put a limit on the amount I could can. I wasn't that sad, actually. Also, the store had no bottled lemon juice, so he'd brought home some lemons. In fairly short order, I filled seven quart jars, topped each with a teaspoon of salt and two tablespoons of fresh lemon juice (hope that's okay), attempted to remove air bubbles (huh??) with a rubber spatula, fished the hot lids out with a magnetic thingamabob made precisely for this one purpose, screwed on the lids, and stuck the jars in my simmering canner. I followed directions in the Ball Blue Book Guide to Home Canning and Freezing, and canned the jars for 45 minutes. Meanwhile, I filled another seven jars. That makes it sound effortless. How can I conjure for you the mess this was making of my kitchen. Note to self: do not wear a white shirt while canning tomatoes!!! (Noted far too late in the process to bother changing).

The kids were about, of course, and decided they would like a sleepover in A's room. They admired my work and chattered endlessly, and I nursed baby CJ off to sleep while Kevin handled virtually all of the bedtime prep: snacks, baths, flossing. I knew I'd do two canners-full and freeze the rest, so basically I just kept on skinning and coring, skinning and coring. I had the skinning down to a science. The skins really do slip right off after the tomato's been dunked in hot water, and this saves skimming the skins off whatever you're cooking at some later date.

The kids refused to fall asleep. Baby CJ woke up screaming. As a result, the first batch was in the canner much longer than the suggested 45 minutes. What was I thinking?? Do we need these tomatoes? Yes, they're organic, and yes, they won't have to sit in cans lined with bisphenol-A plastic; but. So baby CJ eventually nursed back to sleep. It was after 10pm by that point, and I was still faced with a bushel and a quarter of raw tomatoes. Kevin stayed up painting with me, and on and on we went at a positively feverish working pace. I spent the last hour or so fantasizing about sitting down on the couch with a beer. Or even just taking a quick bathroom break. My heart sank at every squeak from the baby monitor. But twelve large freezer bags later, I was done! I decided to stuff the freezer bags completely full and resolved to make giant batches of fresh tomato sauce this fall and winter. If I hold myself to one batch per week, I'll have enough in the freezer for close to three months. And with the fourteen jars (though one didn't pop) ... well, it's something.

Sitting on the couch with Kevin after midnight, I decided this would be my last canning attempt of the season. First and last. Yes, I'd love to make pickle relish, and can peaches, but I have to accept that I have a not-quite-five-month-old baby, and therefore that I cannot be up past midnight very often and live to tell the tale. The only concentrated time I have available to do this kind of work is after the kids fall asleep. So next year. I still intend to continue filling the freezer (one is already full, thank you tomatoes), but in smaller batches. For example, yesterday I also packed a pile of chopped fresh basil into an ice cube tray, which took a matter of minutes.

So, on this note--do I order the half bushel of peaches I'd been planning to from Nina's buying club? I think I will anyway. Do peaches freeze? Or maybe peach freezer jam?

Yesterday afternoon, the kids were playing "Little House," a game based on the Little House series of books by Laura Ingalls Wilder which we are reading right now (we have gotten to Little Town on the Prairie). AB was Laura, leading around her older brother, who was blind Mary. At one point, Laura demanded that "Ma" give her some work to do, so I suggested she get the clothes off the line for me. I didn't have time to check up on that project, which got derailed at some point by a million crows who were "attacking, attacking!" ("Mary" was most enthusiastic about this plotline). It was past midnight when I remembered the two loads of clothes still hanging outside; but when I went out to check, here my little Laura had gotten every stitch off the line and into an overflowing basket. So there you go. She was entirely helpful, and it was one less chore I needed to do last night.

Now it's nearly time for swim lessons. Off for my daily run. "Mommy might not be able to talk to you when we get to the end of this block," I told the kids yesterday. "I'll be puffing like an old train engine." A told me at the end of the block that I was indeed puffing, but not like a train engine; he did not elaborate.

3 comments:

  1. Peaches freeze really well! I've done it for a few years now. I rinse them, slice them off the pit (I don't bother to peel them), and put them in freezer bags. Couldn't be easier. They work well on waffles, as crepe fillers and as pie filling if you're feeling ambitious. I freeze tomatoes whole and in their skins as well. If you really want, you can slip the skins right off when they thaw.

    I admire your initiative!

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  2. i'm already addicted to your blog!

    as you know, i made peach freezer jam, and it is delicious!

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  3. I'm very impressed with canning processing you did. I make jam but I do the cooked recipe and freeze it since I don't have the canning process equipment (what you need like you said!). I don't like freezer jam recipes so I always make it like I'm going to do the canning process. It always turns out perfectly!

    You explained it so clearly that I knew each step you were doing Carrie. One day I should get it done the way you do because then my freezer wouldn't be so stuffed with jars of jam!

    How you had all the energy can only be summed up by saying you are multi-tasking mommy.

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