Every year my Grandfather (who is 80 at the time of writing) plants a million and a half tomato plants, actually, it is closer to twenty, but when the tomatoes are ripe, it seems like it should be a million and a half. So, every summer my mom and I end up taking home like ten hundred pounds of tomatoes; needless to say more than we can eat at one time. What do you do with ten pounds of tomatoes without ending up with too much spaghetti sauce? Why can them of course. I don’t know when we started doing this, I must have been too young to remember, but every year the tradition is the same, either we can them; or we end up with a billion quarts of spaghetti sauce =).

The way we can them is fairly simple, but it always seems to take a long time. What we do is first peel the tomatoes by blanching them in hot water until their skin cracks, pull them out, and stick then stick the done ones into the roaster (our glazed metal pan that people usually cook turkeys in. It is just that this is a deep enough and big enough pan to hold all the tomatoes). Usually, the way that my mom and I do the canning, is that my mom blanches the tomatoes while I skin them and quarter them, while my mom is waiting for the water to boil, etc, she will come over to the table and help me. This way we can get the most amount of tomatoes cooked, peeled, and quartered before they cool. The only problem is that they don’t have time to cool, which means that not only are your hands wrinkled from the juice, but they are also burnt because it is hot juice. You get use to the blistering heat of the tomatoes eventually.

Once we get all of the tomatoes peeled and quartered, we end up with a pot full of tomato goop. We take this and boil it, boiling it helps kill any of the germs that are in it. Once the tomato goop comes to a good boil, we use ladles and funnels to get it into jars. We have this really cool funnel especially for putting tomatoes into cans, it is really nifty, it is normal funnel shaped, but the end doesn’t come to a point. It is about pop can sized, but a little smaller so that it fits inside the mouth of a can, but is wide enough to allow chunks of tomato to go through. This is usually the section that I don’t have to help with, since in the past it has been so late that I would have to go to bed, and since this is easily a one person job, my mom would let me go to bed without too much fuss. Once the tomatoes are into jars and sealed with lids and rings, my mom sticks as many jars as possible into our pressure cooker/canner. Each canner comes with specific directions on how long and on what pressure you should can a specific fruit or vegetable. But, I remember my mom telling me stories about her grandmother canning, and how she use to tell my mom to be careful; since if you don’t have the pressure set right, the canner can explode. I also remember sitting and watching our huge stockpot sized pressure cooker/canner with it's little pressure releaser top; the pressure releaser is this little round piece of metal that has thee holes in it, once for each pound of pressure setting. Say the vegetable you are cooking calls for ten pounds of pressure, then you would take the pressure releaser and stick it on the steam release on the lid on the hole that was marked 10. This way the pressure cooker/canner didn’t get too much pressure and explode. But, all this said, I would sit and just watch the lid, waiting for the cooker to start boiling, since the steam being released would make the pressure releaser dance like a Mexican jumping bean. I found it very amusing as a child.

The process is long and sticky, but this is where it starts to get better. When the canner has cooked for long enough, and it is time to take out the glass quart jars, you have to do so with the special can sized tongs or hot pads, because the glass is so hot. Then, we spread dish towels on the table, and let the jars cool there. We put down towels to soak up the water that the jars drip because of the canner. Then, when all the cans come out, you can go to bed; the cans need a long time to cool. By morning most of the ones that haven't sealed have popped by now, and you can put away the ones that haven't. The ones that haven’t sealed will have to go into the fridge and get used soon because you cannot reseal them.

All of this work said and done, you have jars of tomato that you can use all winter long. They make great soup stock, and you can use them in almost anything that calls for a can of tomatoes. =)

Also, recently, my mom has started adding garlic, green pepper, and onion to our tomato mix, since almost every recipe calls for these four items together. She says it saves her time in the long run.

On another note, you can also use this canning technique for lots of other things. Mom and I have actually bought chicken in bulk, and canned boneless chunks of chicken. That was a few years ago, and kind of a gross, sticky, stinky process; I would only recommend it to die-hard canners, and or people who use a lot of chicken. Though, it makes very very quick homemade chicken soup, since you don't have to boil and de-bone the chicken before you start, just add a can of chicken, a can of water (not literally a can of water, but a can full of water), and noodles, and vegetables and boil. It is great for when people are sick. You can give them a glass jar of chicken noodle soup. =) Good luck, and can something sometime.