Plum tomatoes are best used for canning. Canning season for this savory fruit usually begins mid August and ends around mid September. Below, please find an excerpt on my experience growing up in an Italian-American household who valued the tradition of preserving fresh foods, passing it down to their children.
On Sunday mornings my mother would rise early, before all of us, like every other day of the week. After gulping down her ritual morning demitasse “shot” of espresso, she would set a large aluminum pot on the stove and pry open a vacuum sealed glass mason jar (or two depending on if we were expecting guests) of freshly canned plum tomatoes, from the summer past.
Mixing the contents in a obnoxiously loud blender that sounded like a sputtering old car engine, she would pour the thick, bright-red contents into the simmering pot of onions, carrots and garlic to cook for some time, rousing everyone from their slumber with the strong punchy familiar Sunday smell.
“The plum tomatoes tasted like candy to me. I always knew their sweetness. Split in half and lightly salted, I squeezed their outer shell and watched the goey jelly ooze down as I caught it on my tongue. One for the jar and the other for me”.
Sometime in August, we would unite as a working force that would be the envy of any Henry Ford factory assembly line. Even as small children, we knew our job was to get those tomatoes in the jars as efficiently as we were taught, in order to be released of our duties.
Tackling the army of plum tomatoes strewn on long ply boards, that were used as makeshift tables, which lined the walls of the dimly-lit, cement basement of my parent’s row home in the city was an annual end of the summer ritual for our family.
While my American friends had carpeting and second hand sectionals arranged in their basements, the “cellar” of my Italian-American friends boasted a full kitchen complete with a second back room called a “cantina” use for food and wine storage, that could easily feed the neighborhood for the entire year-if their diet consisted of fresh sausage, canned vegetables and homemade wine.
Production was modest at our house, with our canned tomato count coming in at approximately 150 jars, the inventory of friends with larger families and bigger appetites featured as many as 300!
Today, I live too far from the neighborhood I grew up in and sadly do not visit often enough.
However, I proudly display 50 or so mason jars or fruits of my labor(as I lovingly refer to them) in my kitchen pantry. I consider these containers filled with pureed plum tomatoes, “liquid gold” and guests or the event must pass a rigorous checklist (at least my mental checklist) of their importance, before I break out a single jar.
The count is meager, but a symbol to the tradition handed down from my family.
It was no easy feat to gather, can and cook the tomatoes as I have discovered. Both my parents worked long hours during the week and I can’t imagine the last thing they wanted to do in the evening and weekend was orchestrate production. I am grateful and humbled by this testament of sacrifice, love and tradition handed down to their children.