“If You Decide to Can Tomatoes” by Annette Meyer

If you decide to can tomatoes….:

you get up at 4:45 am, feed the chickens before dawn, have coffee while driving  to meet the farmer in the field at 6 am to “pick your own” before it gets too hot.

After 4 buckets are filled, paid for and loaded, you stop to take a photograph of his huge pear tree in the edge of the woods. It’s loaded with ripening fruit. I must call to ask him if it’s a sandpear tree and if they sell pears when they are in season. If that is a sandpear tree maybe I can also get a cutting and try planting our own sandpear tree again here on Jordan Hill. It’s been tried several times before, but for some reason they don’t survive, because there’s still no tree growing here.

As I drive home I reminisce about the past, and fantasize about the future. I would love having canned sandpears for eating on Mom’s hot biscuits later! Other pears will get mushy when cooked down, but sandpears stay firm.

We always had a shelf of home canned pears to enjoy. Whenever I taste their fruit, memories of childhood, of playing under our huge old fashioned sandpear tree, branches loaded down so heavy with fruit they were literally bending from the weight and touching the ground. Daddy propped some branches with 2×4’s to keep them from breaking under the strain and warned us sternly about getting too close in case it collapsed anyway!

As kids we usually ran barefooted most of the time and in later summer had to avoid that area near the tree so that we wouldn’t step on or get stung by drunken bees feasting on the dropped fruit. The tree in our yard was already mature and if memory serves a few years after we moved from there it was damaged by a hurricane. My cousin, who bought that property from us, was not a fan of grow your own fruit trees or dealing with yellow jackets and the sweet odor of rotting fruit. I heard that he cut it down. I haven’t been back to see if that’s true, but I imagine it would be gone now anyway from old age, since its almost 40 years later.

I arrive home and take time to weigh the buckets to see exactly how many pounds of tomatoes a 5 gallon bucket holds. There are 120 lbs. of fresh-picked tomatoes to be spread out on tables in the living room for ripening. It’s such a pretty sight of Summer to look upon and enjoy. I picked at least half of them green so that they will ripen at home and it won’t be quite such a marathon for canning them all at the same time.

I’ve been away from here for eight months, so locating empty canning jars means checking every pantry shelf, opening each kitchen wall and counter cabinets and searching through them. Taking mental inventory as I go, I remove things that shouldn’t have been put there in these cabinets in the first place. The result is time spent sliding around on the floor, bumping head, knees and elbows while contorting, reaching into dark corners and putting it all back in some semblance of order. It’s apparent that I’m not as bendable as I used to be!

My exercise results in a pile on the floor; a questionable collection of empty plastic bottles, a gallon jug of antique noodles, a box of chocolate brownie mix, a pack of vanilla wafers, 2 empty wine bottles (hmmm…) and with all that, four quart jars for canning have been found.

I will return to the cleaning and organizing cabinets task at a later date as I’m trying hard to stay on target in assembling tomato processing equipment and cook up a batch today. I clear away the pile and make breakfast for my niece, who has finished feeding her rabbit and the cats and is now looking for her own food. Soon, Mom comes in to prepare Daddy’s breakfast. She cooks his eggs just like he asks for them, and slices a freshly picked tomato on his plate, makes his coffee, then leaves the kitchen to feed him and to take care of their morning routine.

I’m now done with the temporary distraction of caregiving, but of course, there’s a sink full of everyone’s dishes waiting to be washed before I can wash the canning jars that I’ve just accumulated.

As I clear the sink and begin washing dishes and setting up the assembly line of pots, bowls, spoons and jars, my cell phone rings. I am called outside for a few minutes to push the niece out of the soft dirt. She accidentally drove her wheelchair wheels into unpacked soil and got stuck while picking cherry tomatoes off our bushes.

Sweaty from the heat, humidity and herculean effort of rescuing a damsel in distress, I decide it’s time for a cool drink before I get back to canning; and I just emptied the last of the tea into my glass. I shall brew more.

I grab the big pot, add two gallons of water, one large tea bag, and scoop one cup of sugar to be dissolved… uh oh, I need to refill this empty sugar container. I’m shocked to discover there are no more 10 lb. bags waiting on the pantry shelf, no more stockpile in covered bins…for the first time in many years, this house is completely out of sugar! There’s half a cup in the sugar bowl and that’s it! This running out of sugar simply does not happen in this house, not for many years–there’s usually 30 or 40 lbs. of food staples like sugar, flour, cornmeal and grits stored in tight bins at all times! In my extended absence someone has been dipping into the reserves and not restocking! I’m sure they didn’t mention opening the last bag of sugar to Mom or she would have told them to buy more. I shall add sugar to the store list. Bin inventory shall be left for another day.

As I search the pantry shelves for sugar just in case someone carelessly misfiled it, I must be careful not to injure my shins and ignore the disorganization as best as I can. The wall cabinet fell several months before I returned. It’s quite disheveled in here, with a pathway leading into the room, the pots, pans, and supplies that were in and on top of the cabinet currently line the walk area! It’s not safe for Mom to come in here. A sister-in-law reattached the cabinet to the wall but it still needs a bit of reinforcement to make sure it’s not going to eventually pull away from the wall again. Meanwhile it’s hanging there empty.

Since I arrived back a few weeks ago, I have in my spare time, accumulated the appropriate brace, the shelf bracket, the drill and bits. I just need to get in here and do the cabinet reinforcement so that I can restore this room to sanity again. That is a yet another top priority project and sadly not to be tackled today! Today I shall brew the tea without sugar.

As I pause to make notes I gaze around and gauge today’s progress so far. There’s a pile of homeless stuff in the middle of the kitchen floor, to be discarded or relocated to its proper place. I see the pile of freshly washed chicken eggs drying on the towel, next to the quart jar collection waiting to be sanitized, next to the pot of tea that’s steeping, next to today’s freshly picked blueberries to be cleaned and put in the freezer, sitting beside the fruit that needs eating and the coffee that needs drinking. Down the hallway I can hear Daddy calling for Mom. It’s probably time to cook his afternoon short order.  I shake my head, sigh contentedly and smile knowingly….

…..If you decide to can tomatoes! Good thing I picked so many of them green!

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