Ever since I was a little girl, I’ve had a passion for cooking. Something about taking a fresh ingredient and turning it into something delicious has always been fascinating to me. I credit my passion for fresh food to the family members in my life, especially my Grandma Arnold. I have always admired my grandma for giving me the gift of homemade cooking. She cooks, and she cooks a lot. It’s always fresh, and it’s always delicious. Something about the smell of her homemade pies, or chili made with her famous canned tomatoes brings me an immediate sense of love and comfort. I knew my grandma canned tomatoes every year. In fact, she cans just about every kind of vegetable you could think of. Green beans, cabbage, peppers, everything under the sun. The process is long and daunting, she’d tell me. But in the end, the hard work was always worth it. “You should come down and help me sometime!’ my grandma would say.
Today was that day. I picked up a box of canners from the market after my morning shift, and headed over to my grandma’s. I wasn’t sure what the day ahead of me would look like, but I was excited to see what we had in store.
“Are you ready, Grace?” Grammy asked. “I am always ready!”, I replied. I truly was. We opened up the box. “These tomatoes are perfect,” said Grammy. “They’re nice and ripe. Perfect for canning.” It was true. The tomatoes were big, red, and beautiful, the product of a lot of hard work and care. After some small talk, we got to work. The first step, she explained, is to boil a big pot of water and put the tomatoes in, just so the skin would come right off. We set the tomatoes in an ice bath, and sure enough the skin came off effortlessly. Some tomatoes were small enough to put into the jar whole, while others needed to be cut.
A lot of care was taken to make sure each jar was sealed tightly, with no air bubbles or excess juice on the jar. Otherwise, they wouldn’t seal. It amazed me just how much attention to detail was put into canning, making sure each jar was perfect so we would have fresh food in the winter. I looked at the whole tomatoes we had just canned in their jars and admired our work. My grandma always told me canning is an art form, and now I understand what she means by that. The tomatoes were beautiful in their jars, with a light pink and red hue, almost as if they were painted by the hands of an artist.
As we cooked away the afternoon boiling the tomatoes, peeling them, canning them, and sealing them, I realized how special this experience truly was. Sure, we were cooking tomatoes to save them for the winter, but it was about so much more. We spent the afternoon talking and connecting. We shared stories and laughed away the afternoon together. My great grandma showed my grandma hot to can tomatoes, and now my grandma is passing down that tradition to me.
During my time working at Witten’s I have cooked most of the produce at the market, from the sweet ears of corn to the delicious summer squash. Before today, however, the one thing thing I had yet to conquer was canning tomatoes. When our customers buy canning tomatoes, I love to ask about what they are going to do with them. Sometimes they are canning salsa. Sometimes it’s spaghetti sauce. Whatever they’re making, I like to imagine they are going to share the joy I experienced today with their children, grandchildren, or loved ones. That’s why we do what we do at Witten’s. It’s not just about the food. It’s about the families, the memories that are shared around the table, and the legacy that is preserved when a recipe is handed down from one generation to the next. I am grateful I got to experience that today. Thank you, Grammy.