Canning Tomatoes: It’s a Family Job

I posted a quick status update while sipping my tea Saturday morning. It was almost noon and we'd had an overly productive day. It's tomato time in my neck of the woods and I know a chick who knows a gal who knows a guy who lets us go out to his fields just before they turn them and glean as many tomatoes as we can carry away. This year, that was four hundred pounds for me. While it's a large amount—excessive really— I belong to a groovy little canning trade group and this winter, when I'm craving some of Sarah's BBQ sauce I'll send out an offer to trade her for a jar of marinara.

Canning four hundred pounds of anything is time-consuming and physically exhausting. From carting forty pound buckets of tomatoes across a sandy field to lifting heavy quart jars out of boiling water, my muscles ache and my feet throb, but when I posted my update feeling pretty dang proud, one of the first comments was, "Where are your kids that you're able to do all that?"

I fought the temptation to reply a sarcastic, "Kids? What kids? I don't have—oh no! I forgot the kids!"

Instead, I simply said I've been canning since before they were born. When they walked into the house on Saturday morning after a Friday night with their dad and saw the water bath on the stove and the bags of tomatoes piled up on the floor, they simply said, "No one told us it's going to be a canning weekend!" I chose to take their statement as one of excitement rather than dread. I divided the chores— the kids washed the tomatoes outside with the garden hose, picked rosemary and basil for the marinara, and did their own loads of weekend laundry—and we canned.

Both of them know the hard work of summer and autumn means yummy food all winter long. As we rounded into Sunday evening, Elizabeth walked into the kitchen and started counting jars. She got to fifteen quarts and lost track. Joseph corrected her, and helped her finish out the fifty-five quarts and then turned to me, "High five, mama!"

"You're on fire!" Elizabeth added with a hop.

When they're older, they'll be allowed in the kitchen to help. For now, though, they know canning days are days when they eat pizza for dinner, are responsible for their own breakfasts and lunches, and spend the whole day playing in their room or outside, helping me when I need it. My kids are right here, ten feet away while I can food for the winter months. It's a family job.