Sunday, July 8, 2012

Canning Tomatoes

I enjoy working in our garden, picking the vegetables every evening and hoeing between the rows on a weekly basis.  As the garden ages and the summer progresses, different vegetables come into their peak.  Since it is later in the summer, right now tomatoes bountifully fill my basket in the evenings.  Once inside my kitchen, tomatoes cover the counters; their luscious red color begging to be eaten and enjoyed.  Even with all the tomato eating and sharing, tomatoes still linger on the counter.  Preserving them to be used at a later time seems smart.

Okra and snap beans in the garden

The Pikc Your Own website claims that canning tomatoes is an experience that your family will always remember doing together.  Since I am all about our family having such memorable experiences, I decided that canning our garden-grown tomatoes would be a great way to spend my afternoon off from work with the kids.  With them busy helping me in the kitchen, they would surely not be bored or want to sit in front of the television watching one of our only five channels (yes, only five – we do not have cable, dish, or any other subsidizing form of television viewing.). 

Benjamin filled the largest pot we own with water and began boiling it to sterilize the canning jars.  (The large pot was given to Ben and me as a wedding gift from Amie and Shaun Harris.  Although we cooked lobsters in it a couple of times over the years, it serves more often as the official canning pot.)  Georgia-Lee and I worked to get two more pots of water boiling – one to sterilize lids and rims and the other in which to dip the tomatoes to help remove the skins.  In addition to the tomatoes and a few other garden vegetables stealing counter space, we added a huge bowl of ice cold water to place the tomatoes after their dip in the hot water, a bowl for tomatoes ready to be peeled, another for peeled tomatoes, and a final container for all of the peelings and cores so composting later.  Lots of hot boiling water on the stove, very little counter space, and two kids, aged 12 and under, in the kitchen – whew!  At least it gave us something to do together in the heat of the afternoon!  Temperatures as of late have been reaching upper 90s and even into the low 100s! 

With all of the turmoil in the kitchen, we failed to recognize the thunderstorm that had been brewing outside.  In no time at all, hail and rain pelted from the sky as thunder clapped and lightning sparked all around our house.  The electricity flickered on and off several times and finally decided to stay off just as we began packing tomatoes into the jars.  The kids filled the remaining empty counter space with a couple of wax candles and small battery operated votives my mother recently gave us.  The kitchen looked like a small Catholic shrine! 

Canning by candlelight

With tension running a little high, Benjamin stepped outside onto the front porch to call our dog Max.  Max HATES storms; he cowers at the first clap of thunder.  The kids worried about him.  In spite of them calling Max (and me yelling for them to get inside before they were struck by lighting), Max did not return home.  Benjamin called me from the kitchen to the front porch, saying he thought something might be burning across the street at our neighbors’ house.  Their driveway dips downward, preventing a full view of their house from our porch; however, sure enough, something was burning at their place.  With the lightning popping all around us, we feared it struck something in their yard and started the blaze.  Earlier in the kitchen I recalled saying to the kids, “I bet something got hit by lightning; look out the window to see if it hit one of our trees.”  Although I said it, I did not know at the time that the words would ring true. 

After a series of panicked phone calls to 911, the couple who lives across the street (who happened to be out of town), and to Ben, we raced over to the home to find the worst possible scenario.  Blazes leapt from the windows, licking up the home faster than we could imagine.  As the rain soaked our tomato covered clothing, the beautiful home burned.  Volunteer firemen arrived quickly, suiting up and uncoiling hoses in quick fashion.  Decked out in firemen garb, they entered the home, blasting water at the growing fire.  We backed away from the scene as Georgia-Lee cried and begged not to watch.  Neighbors gathered, wanting to help but finding nothing could be done.  We retreated to our porch, watching the scene unfold from a safer distance. 

In spite of the rain pouring down, the fire continued to burn.

Power was restored a couple of hours later.  We processed our jars of tomatoes (lots of effort for four measly jars).  The dedicated team of volunteers continued to fight the fire, ensuring the flames did not go further from the home into the surrounding woods.  The sweet couple across the street had not yet returned home.  Just before dark, they arrived, having driven 200 miles from an anniversary get-away.

Georgia-Lee declared at the end of our day that the canning website was correct – we would always remember canning tomatoes together as a family, but unfortunately we would also remember it as the fateful day our neighbors lost their home.  For the rest of the evening, Ben murmured statements like "There's nothing permanent in this old world," as he shook his head, thinking what a loss, what a shame.  We all were reminded that although we may try to can tomatoes, preserving the goodness of summer for a future time, we must remember to "Store up our treasures in Heaven," as the Bible says in Matthew 6:20.  I know these words, and others from the Bible, will be a source of comfort for our neighbors, who as Christian people, lean on God during both the bad and good times.                     

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