Summer's end: The gardens are at their peak, the peaches and pears are ripe and juicy, and the big red tomatoes are ready for canning.
Freezing and canning have long been a big part of my life and I'm happy to say my girls have inherited my love for it. I have warm memories from early childhood of sitting by my mother on the porch shelling peas. We picked peas "on the halves," meaning that whatever amount you picked for the grower was half yours. We always had a good supply of Crowders and Purple Hulls for the winter.
My nephew still brings some for me when he comes for a visit from the south. Mother Nature was a little contrary by having all of this bounty come during the hottest time of the year.
I feel a twinge of guilt when I think how much harder our mothers and grandmothers had to work to put up their winter's food supply. My mother had a wood kitchen range and carried water in from a faucet in the yard. With firing up the stove to heat water to clean the jars and then to process the food, the kitchen was like a sauna for hours, and no electricity for a fan to cool us down!
Speaking of conveniences -- or lack thereof -- I recall visiting Howard's aunt Addie about 1948 in the hills of West Virginia. She stored her home-canned food, as well as her fresh eggs, milk and vegetables, in her root cellar about 10 steps from her back door. She lamented that she couldn't get into it a few days before because when she opened the door, there was a large cottonmouth wrapped around the milk jug! I just said he could have the cellar; you don't argue with a cottonmouth. That same day, I watched a snake swallowing a frog on her back step. Just his feet were sticking out -- what a fate!
I've thought so many times about the wonderful documentary Addie's life would have made. She was truly a rugged mountain woman, and I was fascinated with her and her lifestyle. A big part of her diet was the wild game she shot and cleaned herself. She lived her entire life without even one convenience and was one of the happiest people I ever met. I left there feeling like a pampered city wimp who couldn't even wring a chicken's neck.
My early attempts at canning were peppered with some grand mistakes. I turned grape juice into wine because I didn't get a good seal on the jars, and believe me, grape stains are forever. I use a canning guide that was written in 1942 (WW2 Victory Garden Issue!) and I still oven can my tomatoes and peaches. I hope the Home Extension Agent is not reading this. Maybe I'll put a disclaimer on this and say, "Don't YOU Try This At Home!!"
I just bought a gadget at a garage sale that has made my life so much easier.
My kitchen is at one end of the house and the computer at the other, so I can't hear the buzzers. I found a wind-up timer I can set and carry in my pocket. It saves me so many steps and only cost a quarter! If you don't have one, put it on your Christmas list.
Daughter Molly has had some chuckles from their garden this year. Her son, Russ, planted his first organic garden, and it has been very prolific.
Their business office is close by. After a delivery truck came last week, the driver let the truck sit so long she went looking for him. To his consternation, she found him in the tomato patch eating his fill! They both had a good laugh.
Their English Lab is a vegetarian who favors tomatoes, too. Maybe a taller fence is in order for next year.
All of this tomato talk makes me want to stuff one, how about you? Just about anything you like can be used; I like tuna and chicken, but this is a little different, and a little like a BLT.
Bean and Bacon Stuffed Tomato
6 strips thick sliced bacon, chopped, fried and drained
5 medium large tomatoes
11/2 c. canned garbanzo beans, drained
1/2 c. finely diced sweet onion
10 black olives, chopped or sliced
1 c. romaine lettuce, coarsely chopped
3/4 c. creamy Caesar bottled dressing
Wash and dry tomatoes. Cut tops off and reserve. Scoop out inside with melon baller, leaving a 1/2-inch thick wall. Drain with the cut side down while you mix the filling.
Fry bacon, drain on paper towel. Combine garbanzo beans, onions and olives and toss with lettuce and dressing. Stir bacon in just before serving. Fill tomatoes and replace top. Serve with cheese and crackers. Makes 5 servings.
Parting Shot: Negative thoughts can make you sick. Positive people live longer. Laugh everyday and stay away from negative people ... unless you are married to one!
Edna Shaffer is a local mother, grandmother and great-grandmother who occasionally writes about cooking from the perspective of an older adult. She can be reached via the Record-Eagle at 120 W. Front St., Traverse City, Mi 49685; or by sending e-mail to: firstname.lastname@example.org.