Tomatoes have been the thrumming beat moving us steadily through the days of late September and early October. Some stretches of milling, peeling, or canning have been marathon-like, blocking out all else on the To Do list; others have been snuck into the regular workings of the day like rags plugged into a drafty window. Now lining the shelves of our pantry are various representatives from the Tomato Clan: stewed tomatoes, the backbone of the pantry and only repeat visitor, as well as some new visitors – Tomato Soup, Ketchup, Pizza Sauce, Plain Tomato Sauce. Slated to arrive shortly: Spaghetti Sauce. Three boxes of Grandma’s Roma tomatoes are waiting patiently for their transformation, the final bit of tomato canning for the season. I hope. I think that I, too, have participated in the grand tomato metamorphosis: my blood has no doubt turned tomato, the bouquet of scent that is My Own now carries with it the unmistakeably essences of garlic, onion, and basil.
It should be said that these tomatoes are not from my own garden, for the most part. The Blight that was pandemic this summer found our overcrowded, not weeded, not-properly-supported tomato plants the perfect place to take up residence. So I secured 30 lbs from a local grower and stewed them. And then I bought three bushels (150 lbs) of the biggest tomatoes you’ve ever seen from the farmer’s market. And we made ketchup, soup, pizza sauce, and running out of steam in the last bushel, just plain old sauce, unable to chop one more onion or head of garlic. Somewhere in the second bushel, as we were elbow deep in blanched tomatoes, the phone rang. It was Mom, wondering if we could use any of Grandma’s surplus. Andrew laughed as he handed me the phone, that laugh that is a combination of irony and weariness and look-out-here-we-go-again. Turning away good (free) tomatoes nurtured by Grandma’s magic hands is surely bad karma, and I try to respect the karmic rules at all times. So they sit right now, a chorus of red voices chanting, whispering, and beckoning, the volume growing ever louder as they reach the peak of ripeness and pull me away from all else but the sink, the mill, and the giant roaster that will turn them into sauce.
Lucky for me, I have help. Lots of it, in fact – Mom and Grandma teamed up to can 3o quarts of stewed tomatoes for us, securing their spots as Most Prized Mom and Grandma for a long time to come.
So here’s the math:
310 lbs raw tomatoes yield:
6 pints of ketchup
6 pints of pizza sauce
45 quarts of stewed tomatoes
6 quarts of soup
5 quarts of plain sauce
and an estimated 9 or 10 quarts of spaghetti sauce
That’s a lot of tomatoes.