CANNED! (A Story about food written for Orangeclouds115)
This story is written dedicated to Orangeclouds who lost her job but has the best damn food blog on the web. Drop in, pre-order her book and check out exmearden's ad. 2009-03-18 09:08:51 -0500. Bumped by carol.
I did my penance in tomatoes.
I had been looking forward to Orangeclouds' Local Food Party in Austin for months. Months! I had read Barbara Kingsolver's Book, Animal, Vegetable, Miracle in preparation. I'd had orgasms thinking about all the networking I would do. And then, the night of OC's party, I simply forgot to go.
After transcribing most of Orangeclouds' excellent panel on food policy verbatim, old eating habits took over and I went out for Chinese food. It was like one of those dreams where you forget to take your college entrance exams. Except it was real.
When I got back to New Mexico, I decided to go to local food college anyway. First, I patrolled my backyard looking for growing opportunities.
Nope. I live in the desert. The grasshoppers had mowed down my single basil plant. Nothing was left of it but a stub. And the only thing growing in the space I'd reserved for a buffalo grass lawn was dog poop. I had some nice russian sage going on, but that was about it.
So, I got in my car and drove to the Santa Fe Farmer's Market. It was only my second time there. I'd gone the first time with Dallas Doc and Jill.
I hit up a tomato stand. "How much?" I asked.
"Four dollars a pound," said the farmer. I looked at him skeptically. "If you buy this whole crate over here," he said. "I'll give em to you for two dollars a pound. And they're organic."
I walked away from the farmer's market with my first score...ten pounds of locally grown organic tomatoes. Then I scoped out all the dollar stores and Wal-Marts until I'd procured five boxes of mason jars, a gallon jug of vinegar and a pressure canner.
A few days later, I was skulking around the Espanola Farmer's market like Maxwell Smart. "How much for the tomatoes?" I asked. "Two dollars a pound," answered the farmer.
"Hmm," I mused. "Are they organic?"
"Yup," he answered.
"What'll you give me if I buy 'em all?"
He smiled. "You can have 'em for 60 bucks." There were 80 lbs of tomatoes in the stand.
"I'll take 'em," I answered. I bought two bushels of freshly roasted chimayo green chile, a basket of onions and a big bucket of jalepenos as well.
"Are you running a restaurant?" he asked.
"No," I answered cheerfully. "I'm part of the local food movement."
By the time I unloaded my haul, every square inch of kitchen space was covered in vegetables. I began by peeling and bagging the chiles. A hint for the uninitiated: when you take your chile to a roaster, bring your own gallon jug of water and ask to have the water thrown over the roasting chiles. It disintegrates the skin.
Five o'clock rolled around and I was still bagging chiles. I had forgotten to bring water. My husband and kids tumbled in the door.
"Whoa, Mom! What's with all the tomatoes?"
"Are we having salad?"
"No," I answered. "We're reducing our carbon footprint by joining the local food movement."
"You eat all those tomatoes," muttered Richard, "and you're gonna be having some movements alright."
"For your information," I informed him. "I'm not eating them, I'm canning them. I'm making locally grown organic spaghetti sauce and salsa."
"Whatever!" he muttered.
By two o'clock in the morning, I'd finished my first batch of spaghetti sauce. When I tested the vacuum, the ring seals were loose.
I called my father's wife, Jeanne, in a panic. They live on a farm in Pennsylvania and she cans all her own food.
"The thingamabobber's loose!" I screamed into the phone. "What do I do?"
"Do you mean the ring seal?" She asked.
"The what????! The seal ring?!" Visions of flipper floated before my eyes.
"No. The ring seal. It's the part you screw onto the outside over the lid."
"Yeah!" I screamed hysterically. "It's loose!"
"That doesn't matter," she answered. "You're fine as long as there is a depression in the lid. You should hear them pop as they're cooling."
They popped all right. The sound of musical machine guns startled me out of my sleep.
"Ring seals come loose frequently." Jeanne continued. "Also, food will escape during the cooking process from time to time, especially if you use oil. But that's okay. How many quarts did you can?" she asked.
"Six!" I told her proudly. "I don't understand how you do over a hundred in a day. It took me half the night just to peel 'em."
"How'd you do it?" She asked. "Did you use a tomato processor?"
"No," I said. "I blanched 'em in boiling water and pulled off their skins." I'd pulled off some of my own in the process. "And then I removed the seeds."
"Well next time buy an electric tomato peeler first," she advised me. It will save you time and fingertips."
I was up every night until two for the remainder of the week, and then awake again at six to get ready for work (after dreaming fitfully that my kitchen was filling with metallic popcorn). I canned 15 quarts of sauce and 5 of salsa. And I made twelve pints of escebeche (jalepenos pickled in olive oil).
Friday, my cleaning lady came. "Oh my God!" she exclaimed. "What happened in here?"
I had to pay her double to keep her from leaving.