Fresh Canned Tomatoes

Picking and preserving garden vegetables brings back childhood memories of farm life.

| Fall 2016

  • Few things are more satisfying than putting up fresh produce from the garden.
    Photo by Gwen Regan

About every other evening these days, my wife, Gwen, heads to the garden – while I’m training our puppy, mowing the yard, or working on another project – and brings 10 to 15 fresh heirloom tomatoes back to the kitchen. We’re in that golden window of tomato production when I’d be perfectly happy living on BLTs and other tomato-centered dinners. Basil, tomato and mozzarella, can’t beat it. What a wonderful time of year.

Recently, Gwen had her evening bounty spread out on the kitchen counter, and said proudly, “It’s time to can again.”

Those words always take me back to my childhood. Late summer and early fall on our southeast Kansas farm meant spending hours on end stooped over the green bean bush rows – and the corn rows and the strawberry patch, but those danged green beans are what I really recall. Spend 30 minutes at a time bent over at the waist, and you can understand why harvesting that vegetable is memorable.

I also fondly remember snapping beans on the porch with my mom and brothers, and taking lawn chairs down by the horse pasture, where we shucked a ton of sweet corn and fed the husks to the horses. Those two chores beat the heck out of picking green beans any day of the week.

The next phase of the cycle was Mom getting out her water-bath and pressure canners. She’d set a whole day aside, when dozens of mason jars made their way to the root cellar. From an early age, my brothers and I understood that hard work was a part of our way of life. Then, once the weather cooled, hunting and cutting firewood with Dad became the focus. We were lucky young men.

These days, canning is a bit easier with new canner technology. The Ball auto canner Gwen uses takes all the guesswork out of the process, and it’s perfect for smaller batches – and it doesn’t reduce the amount of pride I feel when she puts up another quart of whole tomatoes. And when she makes a batch of homemade canned pizza sauce, oh man, that’s good eating come winter.

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