In the course of one (long) day, we traversed the Tomato Gap. The immense weight of tomatoes ripening, languishing, a handful of yards from the house had been building up, the harvest delayed again and again by other pressing chores. Sunday, we decided, would be the day to transition them to mason jars.
It was not until late afternoon that we had our picking done and we lined up, all four of us, in front of the sink. (the camera man was stationed at the front end of this tomato train) We each had our jobs and we moved fluidly throughout the processing as lovely red jars began lining the floor around the hearth and the Ping! of lids sealing added a soft percussion to the Simply Folk radio program playing in the background.
The kids alternated between long bouts of careful attention to peeling the blanched skins off and shorter bursts of vigorous chase on stick-horseback.
As it turns out, my tomatoes have not yet peaked. The bulk of our 39 quarts was made up from leftovers from a friend’s crop, after she had canned her fill. It was a slight sting to my pride, to have put in so many plants and so much time for such a paltry yield, but so it goes. A significant portion of my plants turned out to be a small grape variety, instead of the extra-large paste Federles I had expected. I had started most of my plants from seeds saved from last year – perhaps they didn’t run true to variety? So much to learn here. Thank goodness for friends and their generous bounty.
But! One very important triumph, worth shouting from your rooftops to all your neighbors, is the idea of processing those skins, one I picked up somewhere on Pinterest. I filled a Nesco cooker with all of the skins we peeled, added some reserved juice to keep it from burning, and let it cook slowly overnight, filling the air with a warm tomato scent while we slept. There is a bit of natural pectin in those skins, I’ve read, and it makes for a nice thick sauce. Once I was happy with the way they had cooked down, I threw them in batches into my food processor, pulverized them into a velvety sauce/paste and then processed them the same as the stewed tomatoes. 39 quarts of stewed tomatoes yielded sauce from the skins that filled 8 more quarts! We never would have gotten that much goodness back by feeding the skins to the chickens and enjoying the resulting eggs. As it was, the chickens very much enjoyed the stem tops and had no idea they were missing out on treats given them in previous years.
By ten o’clock that night, we had secured a substantial portion of our winter larder. As for quality family time, it doesn’t get much better, we decided, as we reveled in the tomato-tinted glow of the evening. It would have been a fantastic way to spend the evening even without the additional payoff of tomatoes lining the cellar walls; the security and satisfaction gained by a few hours of good work are immeasurable. It looks to be a delicious winter.