Tomatoes–as far as the eye can see!

Way back in 1981, the year after we bought our first stick-built home, DH and I planted a vegetable garden. Our selections were pedestrian—lettuce, tomatoes, cucumbers, onions, corn, bell peppers, carrots, and radishes and maybe one or two other family favorites. We weren’t quite “house poor,” but the idea of saving money on groceries was almost certainly part of our motivation. Beyond that, I think we were giddy that we (and the bank) owned a house AND a yard, and that we could do what we liked with both of them!

Looking back, I’m sure we had no idea how prolific just a few seeds or seedlings could be (and, as a result, we probably over-planted), or that all the fruit of a particular vegetable matures at more or less the same time. We were a small family, just three of us, and we quickly realized we did not have sufficient appetite for all the vegetables our garden was producing. We gave away whatever we could, but it was also obvious that we needed to figure out other ways to use the bounty of our garden. Before too long, I was learning more about preserving food than I ever imagined. I already had a vague awareness of canning because my parents had done it, and I learned from my many cookbooks that some vegetables were good candidates for freezing. Of course the internet, Google searches, and all the other e-conveniences we enjoy today were, at that time, only a twinkle in someone’s eye, so I was more or less on my own in terms of actually implementing canning and freezing techniques for our purposes. Here’s some of what I learned:

  • Canning is really, REALLY hot work and, since vegetables mature best in hot weather, it usually needs to be done at the very hottest time of the year. Our house was not air-conditioned, so the steam from the canning kettle only added to the already overheated atmosphere of our home.
  • Canning is a long process that involves heating food products long enough to destroy harmful organisms and curtail enzyme activity. Canning methods differ depending on whether the food is high- or low- acid. Most canning kettles can process six to eight quart jars (or other combinations of smaller sized jars). Our gardening experiment yielded a lot of tomatoes, so I was dealing with high-acid, water-bath canning techniques that required 35 to 45 minutes processing time for each set of jars. The most surprising outcome of that experience is that the heat from the canning kettle actually transformed both the kettle and the electric coil element of our stove into a concave shape that rendered the electric coil nearly unusable for any other purpose!
  • Freezing veggies was a whole different experience. In terms of volume, bell peppers were the runner-up product in our garden experiment. Preparing green peppers for freezing was a relatively simple process: seed the peppers, slice/dice/cut as desired, spread on cookie sheets, freeze, and then package as needed. What I didn’t realize about green peppers is how incredibly aromatic (stinky?) they are. For months after, it seemed like everything else in the freezer smelled and tast like green peppers!

All that said, I must admit I am once again considering a (much smaller) vegetable garden later this year. Given our location in west central Florida, prime planting season is probably late winter with harvest following in early spring. Instead of the long rows of each vegetable we had before, one or two plants of each variety will probably suffice and, if they don’t survive or aren’t sufficient, we can always visit the farmer’s market or grocery store to fill in any gaps.

Posted for Sian’s Storytelling Sunday. Click here for Sian’s own story and for links to other interesting and entertaining reads. And, of course, you are welcome to add your own story to the link party.

9 thoughts on “Tomatoes–as far as the eye can see!

  1. As we open up the house again and start unpacking today this story has really chimed with me – we have been out into the garden to see what has been growing while we have been away and all we have is an over abundance of salad leaves. If only we could can those! You paint a wonderful picture of fruitfulness though and I love the word “canning” which we don’t use so much here. We say “preserving” more – canning is nicer! Thanks Wanda. I enjoyed this.

  2. We over planted initially too. Now, we have a better idea of what we can eat day in-day out and what we can. And we only need 1 cucumber and 1 courgette.

  3. These are great lessons you’ve shared. We built a rasied garden bed a few years ago, but with the drought last year we didn’t even plant & somehow this year we must have been busy late winter when we probably could have had a nice “harvest.” Oh well, there’s always next year (& the Dallas Farmer’s Market until then!).

  4. Yep, canning is very HOT work. I much prefer my freezer 🙂 I think everyone makes that same mistake on their first garden, I know I did! I later learned to plant less plants more often so that things ripened over a few weeks. As corn is my fav and we have a long growing season for it, I plant a bed every 3 weeks … YUM YUM! Although we are currently in a rental and I can’t plant anything, but I can dream of fresh corn on the cob 🙂

  5. I am another who is envying you the climate and space … In the cold and the rain here everything rots, mostly! Well done on the canning – sounds like quite an ordeal in the heat.

  6. Never had a garden but I enjoyed reading about your garden/canning efforts. And looking forward to hearing about your upcoming return to raising vegetables – with the wisdom of the past as your guide this time around.

  7. What a process canning is. You must have spent hours over those vegetables. Sounds like your garden produce will be more manageable now and you can immediately eat what you grow. There is nothing like eating something just freshly picked!

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