8.18.2005

NJ summer

As far back as I can remember my mother had a garden. Over my years at home a range of things grew in that garden - cauliflower, broccoli, brussel sprouts, corn, pumpkins, radish, carrots, and cucumbers. Some years she grew all of those things, sometimes just a few. But every single year, without fail, she grew tomatoes.

Sure, we had beefsteak tomatoes - big, juicy, deep red fruits that dripped with the amazing taste of summer.

But, we had an awful lot more plum tomatoes. I remember watching my mom drop each oval shaped, red gem into a pot of boiling water. She'd pluck it out the moment the skin started to split and drop it into a bowl of icy cold tap. Once the tomato was cool to the touch she'd peel away the skin, carve out the hard green spot the stem attached to and then drop a halved fruit into the food processor. It was the beginning of her homemade, from the garden, tomato sauce. She'd make batches and batches of the stuff. The house would smell of garlic and herbs. Then she'd carefully pour the steamy hot red sauce into Ball glass canning jars. She'd fix the lids and the screw caps on tight before placing the whole jar into a huge canning pot of boiling water.

I remember the sounds of those cooling jars popping. I remember those jars sitting in deliberate rows in the garage. I remember the taste of summer in February.

I've got my own house and my own family now. With it, I have my own garden. Last year was the first year I canned. It was the first year I had the garden. I was hugely pregnant. The idea of standing over vats of boiling water to seal tight my sauce for winter storage made me cringe. Mom helped. She taught me her secrets. She moved the bottles from pot to board to cool. We listened together for the pops.

I finished my last jar of sauce sometime in May.

It's August in Jersey now. That means the tomatoes are finally starting to ripen. We've nurtured these plants - Logan and I - since the warming days of May. It's paying off today. We've been eating the final products of our cucumber vines the last few days with the first set of red beefstakes tomatoes. We've pouted that our yellow tomatoes are getting too much sun and starting to orange.

And today, we dropped a basket full of bright, juicy, red plum tomatoes into a pot of boiling water. I moved them quickly to the bowl of cold tap. Peeling them gently. Showing Logan how easily the skins gave. Letting him tug at some himself. We placed them gently in the food processor and he, being all boy and all preschooler, delighted in pressing the button to make the firm-ish fruit go splat. We pureed it. We poured it into big pots. We added our secondary ingredients and we cooked ourselves edible summer. My house is filled with the smells of sauce making. It hugs my nose in a way that only pleasant memories of childhood can.

Tomorrow we'll hit the store for the non-reusable lids we forgot to buy. We'll stock up on more small cans of tomato sauce and paste. We'll restock on the salt we used up today. We'll be ready because the over-laden tomato plants are nearly ready to be picked over again for red plums.

Its summer in New Jersey. Tomato time is here. I've got my memories of it, I hope my children are beginning to make theirs.

2 comments:

Zee said...

I need to catch up on everything in here, but I had to shout out - I love the new look! :o)

Aurora said...

Oh wow! I did this same thing as a child. I have that exact same memory and as I read this, I could see my mother's hands canning and smell the tomatoes and garlic and herbs in the air. I remember it took us days to can all the tomatoes my mother grew and how wonderful the things she made were: tomato sauce, tomato soup, salsa. Oh, it is such a wonderful memory. Someday, I want to have a place to grow a garden and I will, like you, share that tradition with my children. Thank you for such a wonderful telling of a favorite memory.