...when I will take a jar of spaghetti sauce for granted.
Yesterday I spent more than 16 hours in the kitchen dealing with tomatoes (and there were about 4 hours the previous day donated to tomato prep). Because I didn’t have a harvest of tomatoes to speak of, but knowing I didn’t want to live without spaghetti sauce for the winter, a friend and I decided to buy 150 lbs of tomatoes from our sole supermarket, and make salsa and spaghetti sauce together. The friend got waylaid an extra couple of days and some of the tomatoes began to go off. Over the weekend, I threw the worst of them out and put up the-ones-that-couldn’t-wait by myself: drying, roasting and making lasagna with on-the-spot-sauce. I got through about 20 lbs.
Over the course of the weekend, I managed to prepare for saucing another thirty pounds of the tomatoes: blanching, peeling, coring, chopping and otherwise getting ready for saucing. Yesterday, at 8:00 am in the morning, I began cooking the prepared tomatoes. While they were boiling, as it was my ‘maiden voyage’ into the land of Back-to-Basics food strainer and sauce maker, I read the instructions, put it together, and began saucing the cooked tomatoes.
My friend joined me at about 10:30 am, to take over the saucing job while I set to making the rest of the first pot of spaghetti sauce: washing, chopping, slicing, dicing and then sauteing the veggies. Once we got the first pot on the stove, we set to dealing with the other three, 25 pound cases of tomatoes: wash, blanch, peel, core, slice, boil, strain through saucing contraption.
Several hours later, with two pots of spaghetti sauce on the boil and reducing on the stove, we had come full circle and were once again facing the last box and a half of tomatoes: blanch, chop, core, slice, blanch, chop, core, slice, breathe in, breathe out, blanch, chop, core, slice, etc. These last boxes were to be made into salsa, so the saucing step was gratefully omitted.
By 8:30 pm, I was exhausted and we still had not started the canning process. My friend made two double batches of the salsa mixture, still uncooked, put it in to pots and went home to finish the processing job herself. Meanwhile, I put a double batch of salsa on to boil and turned back to the spaghetti sauce, which was finally reduced enough to be transferred to jars and processed in the pressure canner.
Fast forward to midnight: I had one lot of spaghetti sauce processed and one double batch of salsa water-bath canned, all now cooling on the counter. The second lot of spaghetti sauce, sufficiently reduce finally, was still waiting to be processed; so I put it in the pressure canner and put the timer on the stove. At 3:00 am (when the canner had cooled sufficiently to be opened), I took the second batch out and set it on the counter beside the other batch. I did manage to sleep between midnight and 3am, on the couch, hands still on fire from the mountains of jalapeno pepper chopping. Mental note to self: use gloves next time!
This morning, I still have a single batch of salsa in the fridge waiting to be cooked and canned, and the dehydrator is still working away noisily on the kitchen table. However, the uncooked salsa has been put on the proverbial ‘back burner’ because I’ve had to deal with the fresh milk from Sunday (pasteurize and turn into cheese because I still have enough yogurt from last week), and get ready for a group of high school children coming to tour the farm at 11am. They are eager to see the animals and want to pet a goat or maybe catch a chicken.
All up, I have seven 750 ml jars of spaghetti sauce (and seven for my friend) and eight 650 ml jars of salsa sitting on my counter (she will have the equivalent), and I still have to process 3 more jars of salsa. In addition, I have 3 quart jars of dehydrated ‘sun-dried’ tomatoes, and two quart jars of slow roasted tomatoes in olive oil in the fridge. I have made one batch of fresh spaghetti sauce that I used to make lasagna and… that’s it: the grand total of what 150 pounds of tomatoes is reduced to!
So. The 30 lbs of tomatoes turned into seven 750 ml jars of spaghetti sauce. The tomatoes cost me nearly $1.00/lb, so when you look at paying $3-4.00 per jar of fancy spaghetti sauce at the store, those 7 jars on my counter are only ‘worth’ $21-28.00 yet I spent $30 on the ingredients; so I haven’t broken even in the economic sense, and I have not yet considered the cost of the other ingredients, or the propane used in the cooking process–let alone the hours of labour put in to the job!
As I look at my seven beautiful jars of spaghetti sauce and contemplate what it would take to grow sufficient tomatoes to keep us in sauce alone, I’m overwhelmed. Not only do I probably not have enough land to do the job, nor the growing conditions where I live to produce decent tomatoes; I certainly don’t have the energy to keep that kind of canning marathon up in order to look after our tomato sauce needs for a year, year in year out.