At an early age I can remember my Mom staying up ‘till an ungodly hour (quarter-after ten seems “ungodly” when you’re eight) on hot summer nights canning our gardens’ vegetables. I can still picture her auburn hair tossed up recklessly in one of those big plastic hair clamps, her dark summer skin tone glistening with beads of perspiration and drops of it rolling down her nose just to vanish as they dripped into the steamy vapor. I was either taking a bath or in bed when she cooked the homemade contents but for some reason, I remember the end of the canning process vividly. My theory is that eventually I couldn’t take being sent to bed during such an occasion, had to come out to the kitchen and whine, “Mooom, when are you coming to bed?”
“Just as soon as I finish this,” she’d answer just barely lifting her gaze, “get back to bed!”
Being unfamiliar to canning (from only doing so once or twice a year) together with its hazardous steps contributed to her conscientious effort, deep focus, and single-mindedness. I could tell by the weary look on her face and her tone of, “Stand Back!” that she was more than ready to be done with her yearly project and even though I was out of bed at an “ungodly” hour, I was the least of her worries. So I did what any other kid who didn’t want to go to bed would do. I stopped asking questions, quietly took a seat in the middle of the dining room floor, and watched her can.
My Mom would would lug the tall pot of boiling water from the stove to the sink and back once the jars were unloaded. She had potholders on both hands; one clutched the bright blue grips on a metal jar lifter, the other braced the stainless steel handle of the pot. Four hours after the start, our gigantic stack of homegrown tomatoes would be down in the basement’s “Scary Room,” sitting on a steel shelf, in shiny glass Mason jars, labeled things like: Spaghetti Sauce/July 1998.
I was recently given a whole bunch of tomatoes. So today I turned them into a big delicious batch of sauce to freeze (a lazy girls’ way of canning.) I roasted the tomatoes in the oven, added garlic, olive oil, and textured vegetable protein (I couldn’t resist ad-libbing a hearty protein punch.) before pureeing. Consequentially, I couldn’t help but picture my Mom hovering over a steamy stove on a hot summer night. When life hands me tomatoes, I think of my Mom.