Saturday, August 29, 2009

The Tomatoes

I was at the school a few days ago when my dad called me. "Do you want more tomatoes?" he barked. While my own garden has historically produced enough tomatoes for me to put up for the winter, this year an awful blight of some kind made all of the tomato plants essentially worthless.

"Yeah, I'll take them," I told Dad even though about two dozen of the plump, ripe things from his and Mom's garden were still on the kitchen counter where they had been for a week waiting for me to process them. "Come get them now," he ordered. I knew darned well that the "now" wasn't imperative; it was just Dad's way of expecting the world to operate. I suggested a pick-up time that would allow me to return to the house to get the box the first batch had come in and strap it to the scooter. Dad agreed, grudgingly, to the delay and about an hour later I got to my parents' house.

"You'll never get them home on that," Mom said when she saw that I'd come on the bike. "Sure I will!" I assured her with more hope than confidence. I filled the box right on the back of the scooter without taking it off and putting it back on, and began the ride back here hoping not to lose any of the little guys. I got back with my full cargo intact. The neighbor whose driveway I use to get the bike down to the backyard was on her porch when I got back. She eagerly took three medium sized ones when I stopped and told her to grab a few.

The picture doesn't do the tomatoes justice. They were all deep, dark red in spite of being washed out in the picture which was taken in full, direct sunlight. It was nice out and I wanted to ride some more, but with around four dozen tomatoes needing to be processed I couldn't put off doing them any longer.

I lined them all up on the counter beside the stove and got out the big pots I'd be using. Two full of boiling water to scald them just enough to make the skins peel off with another in the sink and full of cold water to make handling them more pleasant than grabbing them fresh from the scald. Yet another, the inner part of a steamer full of holes, to keep the water draining from the pulp after I'd squashed them down. A few colanders and a sharp paring knife later and I was all set.

After peeling the skin off each one and cutting out the point where the stem was attached to each fruit I squeeze out the seeds and as much of liquid as I can. I'd swear that there's more water in a tomato than there is in a watermelon! The squashed tomatoes wait in the colander until all the rest which were in the same scald are done. I return to each one, then, squeezing it some more until all that's left is pure tomato pulp. Off it goes then to the steamer pot to drain even more while I continue with the rest. When all the tomatoes have been undressed of their skins, relieved of their seeds, and drained of much of their water I swish them around in the steamer pot getting even more water out until they feel like they're at the right consistency.

I don't can the tomatoes which would require the use of even more big pots and boiling water not to mention jars and lids and rings (and maybe some strings and sealing wax and other fancy stuff). There's a huge freezer in the kitchen and the processed tomato pulp gets frozen in quart sized bags, each one perfect for tossing into a pot of chicken soup, a crock of chili, or slapping onto a pizza shell.

About an hour and a half later, the nearly 50 tomatoes are done. I got a whopping four quarts for my efforts.

It hardly seems worth the effort to spend that much time essentially playing with the tomatoes instead of just heading to the store and picking up whatever canned tomato product I need when I'm cooking something. It's not really about saving a couple of bucks, and the savings after the water and gas use have been deducted can't be all that much if any. It's about touching my roots and doing something I watched my grandmas do when I was just tall enough to peek over the top of the kitchen sink.

Come some bitter, cold, snowy winter day when I decide that a pot of chicken soup is in order, I'll reach for one of these bags. I'll smile in remembering my dear grandmothers who taught me not only to put up tomatoes, but to make the whole soup itself and homemade noodles too when I'm overly ambitious.

Dad's mom. I could have gotten her to take a ride on the scooter with me, I think. Mom's mom, on the other hand, would have been the first to tell me that I'd kill myself on the thing. They both lie in eternal slumber about 100 yards from each other. Now and then I visit their resting place on the bike to talk to them about tomatoes, and chicken soup, Bingo games, and the state of music long changed from their beloved Lawrence Welk's.

No, the tomatoes aren't about the tomatoes at all. They're about life, and love, and growing up, and things like that.


cpa3485 said...

Your post brings back a lot of memories about my family members. Very touching! I enjoyed your post very much. Be sure to enjoy those tomatos this winter.

Conchscooter said...

Bizarre reading this. I remember watching old italian women in the village where I grew up, gossiping and bottling tomatoes.I was a man (boy) and thus went off to ride my moped instead of learning how to do it. Silly boy has regrets as a man. Thanks for the reminder.

irondad said...

Too many of these kind of things are going away. Good for you.

I happen to love cooking. And eating. Italian food, especially. Which uses a lot of tomato products.

Anonymous said...

Fantastic post. I'd like to try the chili made with the fresh tomato. Do you know anything about making rhubarb pie? That was my great grandmother's thing and it was awesome... the recipe seems to have gone missing when she passed away.

bobskoot said...


You are lucky to have "tradition". I remember my Grandmother used to slave away all day in the kitchen cooking, baking, preparing and I used to watch. but that was over 50 years ago and I can't remember that far back. All I remember was going out with friends to play and ride my tricycle, but always came back for dinner

bobskoot: wet coast scootin