My mother has canned tomato juice at least every other year in late summer as far back as I can remember. It seems like most people can quartered tomatoes, tomato sauce, or salsas. For us, it was always juice. It becomes the base for many soups, and in particular our family’s “Hamburg Noodle Soup” recipe that’s pretty much a weekly staple at my house these days. Store-bought tomato juice? It just doesn’t cut it.
I wasn’t particularly interested in canning when I was a kid. I remember my mother working with my grandmother or great grandmother, or sometimes doing all the work herself. She’d always ask me if I wanted to help, but she never forced me to do so. She’d tell me, “I wasn’t interested at your age either. You’ll be interested in it some day — or you won’t — and either way is okay.” As with most things, my mother was right. As I grew older, my appreciation for canning grew and when I moved back home, I was glad to be able to work beside her and learn.
And Myles — well, it seems he’ll never remember a time that he didn’t help with the family tradition of canning.
Myles and I running the Squeezo in 2013 and 2015 (above), and this year (below).
This year, though. He was big enough to turn the crank on the Squeezo without help. He was big enough to use the wooden masher-tool to push the tomatoes down. He was big enough to carry bowls of quartered tomatoes from the sink where mom was washing and slicing them, to where I was working at the table running them through the Squeezo.
I was shocked how much he wanted to help. He did take a break mid-way though to go play and watch a cartoon, but for most of the day, he was involved in the process in one way or another. It was a long day too — we started when we got home from church and lunch, a little before 1pm, and wrapped up around 9. I think mom pulled the last jars out of the canner at nearly 11pm.
We even managed to practice counting and some simple addition and subtraction. “Myles, could I please have THREE tomatoes?” I would ask. He’d take them out of the bowl and toss them into the hopper on top of the Squeezo, counting aloud. “How about TWO more? How many is that all together?” He would smile and laugh and count, and then go back to the sink for another “delivery” of tomatoes from Grandma because we’d run out.
Canning (and cooking, for that matter) is one of the major threads that ties the generations together in my family. My mother is a wonderful storyteller, and inevitably as we work, she talks about her mother and grandmothers, or her friends (who were like aunts to me) that she cooked or canned with over the years. Sometimes it’s happy stories that make you laugh. Sometimes it’s sad stories, or sentimental memories that make you cry. Sometimes they’re stories I’ve heard a million times, but I don’t mind hearing them again.
You see–some people visit headstones and leave flowers to feel close to loved ones who have passed; we cook together or can tomatoes or freeze sweet corn. In those moments, I feel like my grandmother and great grandmother are still there, paring knife in hand, working beside us. It keeps them alive.
At the end of the day, we’re tired, our feet and backs hurt, but we have two bushels of tomatoes that we’ve turned into 37 quarts of juice that we’ll get to enjoy over the next year.