September 9, 2014

A couple weeks ago we visited friends in Connecticut. When we arrived they had just returned home from a farmers market and had placed big ruby red tomatoes on a sunny window sill to ripen.

We have a farmer’s market in our NYC neighborhood on Fridays and I try to get there a couple times a month. My usual purchase is a couple tomatoes and other seasonal fruits and veggies. But these tomatoes sitting in my friend’s sunny window reminded me of a time long ago when my mother canned tomatoes from our garden. I don’t know why this memory came up. Perhaps it was the dappled light sitting on the tomatoes, or maybe it was the view through the screened window of their neighbor’s garden that made me think of my childhood.

Three TomatosI remembered that in late spring mom planted several rows of tomatoes and then in mid-summer she began her harvesting. Some years there was a bumper crop and we’d get buckets after buckets of fresh plump red beauties. Some years, when there had been a lot of rain, the tomatoes would be puny and either have lots of rotten spots or were lousy with fat green caterpillars or crawly things that we called stink bugs.

But the summer was canning season in our house. We canned dozens and dozens of jars of beans, corn, apple sauce, cherries, jams, and always lots of tomatoes. It wasn’t as though we were all in love with the tomato, quite the contrary, my dad hated tomatoes and said they gave him indigestion. Yet, every year they were a major staple in our garden and pantry.

overripe tomatosThat next Friday I scooted down to our local farmer’s market and bought as many tomatoes as I could carry home and I got ready to put up a batch of tomato sauce. I washed the tomatoes and the process that my mother used all those years ago came rushing back to me as though I’d seen her working yesterday. The next step was to bring to a boil a large pot of water and the tomatoes were carefully dropped into the water when it came to a roiling boil. They were only in the water for less than a minute and were then scooped out of the pot and placed in a bowl to cool. This process loosened the skin allowing the peel to slip right off.

My plan was to chop the peeled tomatoes into small chunks and cook them until I had a thick sauce, no frills with garlic, parsley or basil. I wanted a utilitarian sauce that I could do anything with and then I planned to put the sauce into ziplock bags and stack them in the freezer.

Canning jars

There was a time, many years ago when my kids were still very young and we were making every penny count, that I canned tomato sauce. We’re empty nesters now and have been for quite some time. But back then we’d travel out to Long Island to a U-pick tomato farm and gather a huge basket of tomatoes. It was a fun outing. We’d bring a picnic lunch and with the twenty pounds of tomatoes in the trunk of the car we’d head back to the city where the next day I’d begin the canning process. I still have a few jars from those days, but now instead of filling then with tomato sauce, we use the jars as vases for bouquets of flowers.

collendar of tomatos

I stand at the stove slowly stirring the sauce and remember the summer afternoons at the U-pick farm with my son and daughter tagging along behind me as I gathered the tomatoes. They picked a few tomatoes but mostly they kicked up dust and helped to carry the heavy basket of tomatoes back to the car. It was such a long time ago. They were so young, their futures so unknown, and I thought about my mother. The August sunlight, the smell of fresh tomatoes added an interesting dimension to my Friday morning farmer’s market purchases.

It didn’t take that much work before my sauce thickened and I’d tucked it away in the freezer.

There was something special about the tomato sauce I made back when my family was young. And I remember on those last cold winter days when I made red sauce and spaghetti for dinner everyone could tell when we’d used up our supply of summer tomatoes and I was using tomatoes from a can.



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19 Responses to TOMATOES

  1. Sharon Johnson on September 9, 2014 at 10:19 am

    Sweet memories. I too did a lot of canning when everyone was still at home. I always felt a great deal of satisfaction when I would gaze upon all those filled jars on the shelf. Thanks for the stroll down memory lane.

    • Pushing Time on September 9, 2014 at 10:28 am

      Thanks for stopping by Sharon. Even as a major city dweller I find it satisfying to kind of stock up for the winter. But the funny thing is, unless we have a major storm, I can get anything that I need within a block of where I live. It just feels good to do it for myself. I guess it’s still that country girl kicking around inside my soul.

  2. marsharwest on September 9, 2014 at 10:28 am

    Gosh, Margaret, what a beautiful post. You’ve really captured the emotions surrounding those times. We were in NYC in late May for the graduation of a friend’s son. We went to McCarther Park (maybe, but I’m terrible with names.My husband would know) It was a huge-huge farmers market. Had everything, fruits, vegies, gorgeous flowers, jellies from Vermont. I mean everything. I wrote about it on my blog then. Old people, young people, pups! What fun to live in that environment. I’m looking forward to my first trip in several weeks to our farmers market–nothing like what you’re used to–but the vegies sure taste different than the store bought kind.
    I canned when my kids were young, too. I don’t remember my mother ever doing that, but my grandmother did and kept things in her cellar. Now that’s a smell, I’ll always remember. We had peach trees in our back yard. No way to eat them all, so we made peach jam for all three years we lived there. Fun times. Thanks so much for bringing back memories and sharing yours. Have you ever thought of a book filled with your pictures, Margaret? Yours are super nice. I’ll share. 🙂

    • Pushing Time on September 9, 2014 at 10:42 am

      Thanks so much Marsha for leaving this lovely comment. I’m not familiar with the farmer’s market in McCarther Park. these markets are shattered all over NYC in the summer and many of them through the winter, especially those farmers with food that can be sold throughout the winter like apples, potatoes, cheese, wines and frozen meat, or fresh winter caught fish. Yes, there is something really quite satisfying about stocking up for the winter. Yes, I’ve thought about a photo book, but first I have a couple of writing projects to finish up.

  3. thelma straw on September 9, 2014 at 10:45 am

    I myself always enjoy home-canned foods… but this reminds me what different worlds we come from! My dear mother hated to cook and avoided it all she could! ( She did give us avocados a lot!!!) She often took my kid brother and me down to the local pre-cursor of Micky D’s or D.Donuts, et co, to get a choc shake and a burger for supper ! To this day I swoon at the sight of a Big Mac! The only thing she did cook and won some prizes for them – was fancy cakes which she took to the local Methodist Church! My own culinary skills vary — I’ll be doing a blog soon about MY mighty feats with baking,, and hope you will all howl with belly laughs!! T.J. Straw, who to this day is not a world class cook and darkens the door of her local D.D. often!

    • Pushing Time on September 9, 2014 at 10:52 am

      Hi Thelma! Yes, we do come from different worlds. I remember one hamburger in my childhood and it was on a family road trip. I was only five or six years old but I remember that burger and the scenery around the building. At least you had cake!! If you need any kind of good cooking, I think it should be cake. I look forward to howling at your feats with baking. I’ll keep an eye out for it.

      • thelma straw on September 9, 2014 at 5:11 pm

        Actually, my longterm memory has kicked in better… and I recall the place we went ( often ) for food… was The Silver Slipper – which was in no way a DD or Mac … but the local roadhouse… ahem, we never went inside, though… tjs

        • Pushing Time on September 10, 2014 at 8:06 am

          Thelma that is so funny. The Silver Slipper.

  4. Angela Orlando on September 9, 2014 at 11:24 am

    Yes dear friend thank you for this post and the lovely images..
    sadly these days have departed and become sweet memories…& yes
    tomatoes have very special memories attached to them for me also!!!
    My grandfather passed away at 95 years of age but had a garden every
    year until his death that consisted mainly of tomatoes. He started them
    in early Spring from seed inside his workshop in cold frames. He always
    bought “Big Boy” or “Better Boy” seeds as these to him were the best
    tasting tomato. He babied them into young plants and then transplanted
    them usually to his acre to 1/2 acre garden when his “Farmer’s Almanac”
    told him the last frost had passed. He worked the rows daily… weeding
    and spraying for unwanted visitors til his babies matured into gorgeous
    luscious fruit and then he called his children and grandchildren to come
    and share in his bounty which we did with great haste… they were delicious!!!
    How tomatoes played a part in his life and his family’s life!!! Back in the 20’s
    he grew them as a cash crop and when they were almost ripe he wrapped them
    carefully in newspaper and placed them in a box and stored them under the bed.
    Then when his tomato crop had finished he took his carefully protected harvest
    into town to the tomato sheds by the railroad where buyers from places like Chicago
    were waiting there to buy them. My grandfather always got top dollar for his which
    helped provide for his family of 7, my mom being his oldest. The buyers would
    have processing pots boiling right there in the sheds to prepare & can the tomatoes
    then ship them onward to market. Oh how I would luv just one more taste of my
    precious granddaddy’s tomatoes!!! Thanks again for this trip down memory lane!!!

    • Pushing Time on September 9, 2014 at 11:31 am

      Hi Angela, what a great story!! You tell it so well! Times have changed but memories really stay the same. Oh, perhaps they vary slightly as we age, but there is something about food memories that are driven by remembered smells, textures and mystery. Thank you so much for sharing your memory with us.

  5. Angela Orlando on September 9, 2014 at 11:40 am

    Here is more info on the comment I left about my grandfather and his tomatoes. He lived & farmed in the country out
    of Yoakum, Texas which is where he took his tomatoes. The first commercial tomatoes in the Yoakum, Texas area were grown in 1926. By the 1940’s, fifteen packing sheds in Yoakum shipped tomatoes north, and the town was sometimes called the tomato capital of south central Texas. See:

  6. Marcella on September 9, 2014 at 11:45 am

    Hi Margie, (still can’t help but call you Margie after all these years).
    This brought back memories of my Mom canning. We had a very big garden and Mom canned everything from fruit, veggies to meat. I still can but on a smaller scale, the older I get the smaller the canning gets. I remember we had a huge cherry tree by the driveway and Mom canning quart after quart of them, she would put pink and green food coloring in some of the cherry jars hoping us kids would eat them, needless to say, I DO NOT care for cherries now.
    Love your writings, guess I had better get busy and make my pickled beets now.
    Sunny in Washington.

    • Pushing Time on September 9, 2014 at 12:04 pm

      Oh, Marcella it is always a lovely surprise to hear from you. I remember that old cherry tree We used to climb it all the time when we came to visit. Hm, pink or green colored cherries! Cloudy here in NYC but a lovely cool temperature, actually a delicious day. Be well!!

  7. Trish Mayo on September 9, 2014 at 6:48 pm

    Lovely post filled with memories – it’s always interesting how our minds can be prompted by almost anything, in this case tomatoes, to recall the past and make a connection to the present. Enjoy that tomato sauce!

    • Pushing Time on September 10, 2014 at 8:04 am

      Thanks Trish for stopping by and leaving a comment. Yes, it is interesting how the mind is prompted into a memory.

  8. J.Q. Rose on September 9, 2014 at 8:03 pm

    What a wonderful post and beautiful pictures to accompany it. I am so lucky to have a gardening husband. We have a huge garden in our backyard and this year we have a bountiful crop of tomatoes. BUT, I don’t can them. Isn’t that a shame? I don’t really enjoy a tomato except on BLT’s and a few added to make a colorful salad.. My DH eats them right off the bush in the garden. He enjoys sharing the produce with the neighborhood and our kids. My mother used to can tomato juice. Now THAT was delicious and so much better than store-bought tomato juice. She used a Foley Mill. Have you heard of that?

    • Pushing Time on September 10, 2014 at 8:02 am

      Hi J.Q. Rose, how lovely to have you visit. Sorry I didn’t respond to you earlier but life got in the way. You tell great story about the tomatoes in your life. Thanks for stopping by.

  9. Jeri on September 12, 2014 at 6:51 pm

    That was a lovely post – it reminded me of my “canning days” when the kids were little and we trekked north to apple picking country. We would come home with bushels of apples and begin making sauce, pies, and everyone’s favorite, “fried apples.” I can smell them now. This year, we’re hoping to take our grandchildren apple picking. Time moves on . . .

    • Pushing Time on September 12, 2014 at 10:25 pm

      YES!! Fried apples!! Jeri these are such wonderful memories. Now it’s grandkid time!! Thanks for stopping by and leaving a comment!

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