Harvest Time: Honoring the Past, Planning for the Future

September 06, 2021

Harvest Time: Honoring the Past, Planning for the Future

It's officially the opening of canning season at my house. It starts every year about this time. Oh, I dabble in rhubarb, berries and other produce earlier in the season but Sunday was the official opening of canning season.  It starts with an extremely generous gift of tomatoes from my neighbor"s garden.That my friends looks like an innocent amount of roma tomatoes but I know from experience that this will yield up to 100 quarts of tomatoes.  My jars are empty and I am looking forward to filling them. I have been canning for forever. Growing up in a family of 6 we preserved everything and to this day nearly 800 jars are filled with garden goodness in the northern cannery as it is known in our family.

Tomatoes have always been my favorite. It was my job to get the cooker going when I got home from school at 3:00 so that the canner or canners could go on the stove after supper and finish before bedtime. Produce doesn't wait for the right day or the right time, it just happens and the faster it is put up for winter, the better.

When I moved away from home, I vowed I wouldn't can ever again. That lasted only for a year until I used store bought tomatoes....they are not bad but they are not homegrown and they are not sunshine and love in a jar.

Preservation is a funny thing, you mention it and the next thing you know, someone has some jars to give you. Of course, you accept. Next it's a canner that is sitting idle and then it's a sieve and before you know it, you are ready to get going in a serious way. I have cooked holes through a few of those canners and have repurposed them in my sewing room as storage containers. I have gifted some excess supplies to other new canners. The sieve I use came from my husband's family. At one time I had two of them but my mom wore hers out and needed a new one.

Jars, jars are my favorite. I have a large collection of blue canning jars. I don't use them anymore . Honestly, tomatoes don't look very appealing in them. However, they do look lovely in my sewing studio and anywhere I want a little pop of color. Although the blue Ball jars are old, they are not the oldest in my pantry. Many of my jars are 100 years old and still going strong.  I love to imagine the days gone by and the women that have filled them in the past and I am thankful I don't have to stoke the wood stove to fill them. I am thankful for running water and a large kitchen to work in and modern lids.

Some of the jars I know came from my grandma, others from great, great aunt's on my husbands side, family neighbors, a jib job lot at Colonel Bob's auction, church friends and a few I bought myself in the late 80's...they say Golden Harvest on the front and I thought they were so pretty that I had to have them.

The jars sport names of days gone by like Drey, Atlas, the Ball ones have a variety of names on them like Sure Shoulder and then there are some Kerr ones too.Some have liberty bells on the front from the Bicentennial year. They are really quite lovely and I always think they are so very special.

I fill my jars with juice, whole tomatoes, salsa and in a real bumper crop year I make my husband's grandmother's tomato soup recipe. I have made roasted lasagna sauce as well but I have settled into my favorites.

Due to the large volume I have adapted my space and cook down my tomatoes in an electric roaster.

Two of these full yielded 21 quarts of tomato juice last night. This morning it is full to the brim and the counter is full of washed tomatoes waiting their turn to be juiced.I have enough room to keep two canners going at the same time. I manage to skew the process enough to unload and reload them to keep them going. I have extra inserts from the dead canners that make this possible.

Some day, I hope to inherit my grandma Hafner's tomato juice cooker. It was a wedding gift to her in 1927 and has been used heavily every year since. Note the ridges on the lid. This design allowed the juices to circulate back into the pot and to keep things beautifully moist if it happened to be a pot roast cooking or it kept the soup from boiling over. The kettle is extremely heavy and is still being used by my mom in the "northern cannery".

My kids that are off to school are looking forward to a fresh shipment of tomato goodness. My youngest son hoarded his last jars of juice from last season to take to Madison with him. You might wonder if we eat all of these and the answer is yes.... a favorite dish from my growing up years is tomato mac and it is a staple food for our family.

Cook two cups of creamette (has to be) elbow macaroni for 7 minutes. Drain and rinse. Add 1 quart of tomato juice and a little salt and pepper to taste.  Bring to a light simmer to warm everything up. Serve in bowls and add a dab or dollop of real butter and enjoy. This has always been my favorite and my youngest eats this as a staple food.  

We also make chili, soups, goulash, lasagna, homemade pasta sauce or any other recipe that starts with tomatoes in any form.  The whole tomatoes on a winter salad are divine. My mom also cans spicy tomato juice which I may add to my repertoire this year.

My time is up and the cookers and canners are calling my name again...time to sieve! 

Here's to Traditions and Summer Sunshine!  Joy

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