We all, or at least all of the “all” that I know, tend to have some really good ideas from time to time.
Deciding to purchase nearly 150 pounds of fresh, ripe, tomatoes on the drive home through central California’s San Joaquin Valley last weekend certainly started out as one of those really good ideas. Produce is plentiful there, and cheap – especially right now, with the bumper crop of summer vegetables that aren’t going to wait for someone to buy them before they become an overly ripe, definitely mushy, mess.
I don’t own a restaurant, and I don’t have easy access to a commercial kitchen. As a matter of fact, the kitchen in our current house is neither large nor well laid out (don’t even think about opening the dishwasher and the lower cabinet at the same time!), and it’s not particularly conducive to cooking on a “large” scale.
Not that I’ve ever been stopped by the size of my kitchen when it comes to cooking on a large scale. I’ve hosted parties for 150 people in my old 1,100 square foot bungalow in Venice, and done all the cooking for them.
Boiled in oil? No, boiled in water, silly!
I’ve also home canned a lot of stuff over the years. When I was a kid, both of my grandmothers had large gardens and they were bursting at the seams with corn, tomatoes, cucumbers, peppers, beans, pretty much anything that loved heat and humidity. All of that summertime goodness was packed up in glass jars to last over the winter; keep in mind that when I was a kid the concept of a farmers market like we know today did not exist in most of America, and grocery stores had very little in the way of fresh produce that wasn’t in season, so the selections were incredibly limited.
When I was living in LA, there were a multitude of farmers markets, some nicer than others, some cheaper than others, and the same thing when I lived in San Francisco… the Ferry Building market, for instance, is certainly grand but so are the prices.
Picking up 40 or 50 pounds of tomatoes, peaches, whatever from the market – or coming home from a week away once to find out that my backyard garden plot was overrun with more than 60 lbs of cucumbers once – and whipping those suckers into shape and into jars is easily done in a day.
Some ideas are better than others
I figured it would take me a couple of days to get through the tomatoes (and the peaches, figs, corn, zucchini, onions, and so on), since the process is simple but time is limited by hands and space.
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With a helper or two, the way my grandmothers and their friends and neighbors used to work, a pack of women would descend on someone’s home, get an assembly line going and tomatoes were dunked, peeled, cored, put into waiting hot jars, slipped into the water bath, out of the water bath, and onto a clean towel on top of the dining room table.
With one person, not so much. I find that it’s easier to roast the tomatoes in the oven, splashed with olive oil and a sprinkle of sea salt. Timing is a big deal however, since the tomatoes must be hot, the jars they are going in must be hot, the simmering water bath must be hot, and by the time it’s all said and done, I was hot. And sweaty. Very sweaty. Incredibly hot and sweaty. My air conditioner ran for three solid days without stopping since my entire kitchen, dining room, and living room were also hot and sweaty.
And on the fourth day?
At the end of three days – is this starting to sound Biblical, perhaps? – I still wasn’t finished. I had plain tomatoes, roasted tomatoes, tomato sauce, tomato soup, tomato marmalade (ok, jam, but it’s got lemon peel in it so I think it’s technically marmalade), and still had ten pounds of tomatoes left to deal with somehow. Not to mention those peaches and figs and zucchini.
If you’re wondering what the expression means, it’s what happens when you are in your canoe, heading against the current and the wind, and making very slow progress towards home. You can’t keep thinking about how much longer it’s going to take to get home, you just have to keep paddling until you get there.
It was a good idea, after all is said and done. Can you see what I mean about that dishwasher and that cabinet? ;-}