Weekend Warriors: Canning Tomatoes Takes a Village!

Thank you, thank you, Marilyn Miller of United Obligations for this fantastic tale of your tomato canning weekend!!!!

And now for something completely different:

Tomato Canning VatMy grandfather, Giuseppe Maffucci, came from the town of The jars ready for canning tomatoesCalitri in the province of Avellino, Italy around 1909.  A few years later, his wife, Vincenza and my Aunt Marie (now 103, more about her later) came to the US, and were quickly followed by three more children, the youngest of whom, my dad, Emilio, is now 90.

People who came from Calitri are called Calitrani, and like my grandparents, many of them settled in New Rochelle, NY.  Every August, the families would gather together to prepare the tomatoes they would use for their cooking throughout the coming year. No self respecting Calitrani would use the tasteless canned tomatoes found in “merigan” (American) stores!

The infamous “tomato weekends” (where hundreds of quarts of tomatoes were prepared Tomatoe canning weekend: preparing tomatoesand bottled in two days) were the stuff of legend to my siblings and I until the late 70’s, when we began doing it for ourselves.

Italians take their tomatoes very seriously. I mean VERY seriously. I should mention that the idea of tomato weekend is not to make tomato sauce, but to can the tomatoes that we would use to make sauces and other dishes.  (My first husband: Do you cook EVERYTHING with tomatoes? Me: Is there another way?)

The Maffucci Tomato Weekend has a very definite hierarchy. Phase 1 is done outside, on the back patio. Little children are taught as toddlers how to wash tomatoes in the antique brass kettle. (Photo#1) (The kettle, by the way belonged to Giuseppe, and was once used to Canning Tomatoes: cooking tomatoescook the tomatoes. It is too warn now to handle the heat). Teenagers pick basil from the garden, and make sure each jar has a leaf or two. (Photo#2) Only in your 20’s are you allowed to handle a knife and slice the tomatoes. (Photo #3)

Once the tomatoes are sliced, they are put in a large pot to come slowly  to a boil. (Photo #4). They must be stirred often to make sure they do not burn. Then, the tomatoes are put through a large press to sort out the seeds and skins. tomato grinder(Photo#5).  The job of pushing the button on the tomato grinder is given as an honor.

The tomatoes are now brought back to a boil and are taken indoors for Phase 2, the actual canning process.  Three people are needed: One person to ladle the tomatoes into the jars, one to put the lids on the bottles, and one to wipe off any residue and tighten the lids.  I always hated the job of putting the lids on, as the jars were so hot that I would swear I was burning my fingerprints off – if I ever need to join witness protection program, I am all set! (Photos 6&7)

pouring the tomato sauce in to the jarMy Aunt Marie, who will be 104 on December 15, is always in charge of two things – salting the tomatoes, (another position of honor) and making sure that the ladler took the tomatoes from the bottom of the pot, where they were closer to the heat, more cooked and thicker.  As Marie aged, she could not see as well, but could tell from the sound of the ladle if you were taking from the top. She is relentless.

The tomatoes are then put into cases (photo #8), 9-10 quarts to a case, and a younger family member is asked to carry them down to the garage, where they will cool overnight.

The following day, my dad checks to make sure each jar has sealed correctly. The tomatoes are then divided amongst the family members.

That one point, we would can almost 500 quarts in two days. Several family members Box of canned tomatoesmoved away and do their own canning. Tomato Weekend is now only one day for us, and this year we canned 225 quarts.

Amidst the sweaty,  dirty work, we talk and we laugh. We eat a wonderful big lunch and dinner.

I leave covered in tomatoes swearing that I don’t want to ever see a tomato again. Then I begin preparing dinner the next night and……..

Thank you for this amazing account, Marilyn! I sure would like to see a tomato or two in my supper bowl tonight!

Marilyn Miller owns United Obligations. United Obligations specializes in debt collection and cash flow.

Mirth in a Box sells fun and unusual care packages. Sadly, we do not sell tomatoes!

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