Mounds of sun-ripened tomatoes lined my
kitchen counters, filling the air with a
pungent, earthy aroma that made me want to
finish this job sooner rather than later. I questioned the
wisdom of our decision to plant so many tomato plants this
summer, as they produced far more fruit than we could eat, and
at a rate that kept my kitchen cluttered with their presence in
the window sills and much of my limited counter space.
Refrigerating a tomato is a no-no as it ruins the flavor by breaking down the compounds that impart that delectable tomato
flavor, so storage of a bumper crop is a challenge. These were
my son’s pride and joy, though. He had carefully plowed, planted, and picked each one, so I held my tongue even as he walked
through the back door with three more fat red ’maters—as my
grandma used to say—in his hands.
We shared with the neighbors and our family, and yet there
were tomatoes. And it was only July. Fortunately, tomatoes
are an excellent candidate for canning, and canning is a perfect
opportunity to involve kids in the kitchen. In addition to our
tomato stockpile, our garden had provided an abundance of
cucumbers, and I had a taste for some homemade pickles!
Caleb and I rolled up our
sleeves and got busy. The
stove hissed and spit as
we set a heavy pot of
water on the burner to
boil for the tomatoes
and the large canner
on another for the
jars. The energet-
ic beat of bluegrass
seemed to energize our
movements, and we devel-
oped a rhythm in the process.
Plop! Tomatoes gently splashed into the hot bath. I dipped
them out and put them back onto the cutting board, while Caleb slipped the bubbled skins off and cut them into quarters.
Seeds covered his arms, and I marveled at the sight of the teenage boy who stood happily and wholeheartedly participating in
the canning process. His face reflected pride in the good work of
having completed a circle of growing, harvesting, and preserving.
Suddenly, I had to turn away as I recognized a precious memory in the making. Most of the time, we don’t know it when we
are living those moments. They come back to us later, and we
wish we had lingered in them, appreciating the magic.
Steaming Mason jars lined the counter, each
waiting its turn to be carefully funneled full
of hot tomatoes. A few completed ones
sat proudly on a kitchen towel. The day
slipped away as the last tomatoes cleared
the counters, and made the transformation
to winter provisions. Our cucumber stash
converted nicely to dill pickles—whole
and sliced for sandwiches. My heart
swelled with happy memories of my own
childhood, as we made the bread and butter
pickles I remembered making as a child with my mother. She
had just given us the recipe the day before when we announced
our intentions during a visit. Everything about making this
Southern favorite, often eaten with pinto beans on a cold
November evening, brought back memories. The aroma of the
pickles fragranced my kitchen with the smell of my childhood.
I was delighted as our product became replicas of my mom’s.
By Sharon Duncan
Canning & Preserving