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The best thing about fall

Ann Swanson

In my mind, the best thing about fall is harvest time. Although the garden is past its prime, it has enough good things in it to keep me happy.

Tomatoes happen to be my favorite thing to eat when they are ripened on the vine. Oh, you can purchase tomatoes on the vine at other times of year but they are not as sweet as those that ripen naturally.

When tomatoes are ripe, I enjoy just eating slices of tomato with salt on top. My husband and I agree about that although he had a mate who enjoyed sugar on hers and I had a mate who also enjoyed sugar.

I love to cut up a tomato and eat it along with some cottage cheese and a few cucumbers. That is what I used to take as my lunch when I was teaching. We often had pear tomatoes and they were especially good. Those you just pop into your mouth and chew. Grape tomatoes are also good. I was first introduced to those when I attended a conference at Penn State.

Of course, we also enjoyed bacon, lettuce, and tomato sandwiches. I fixed quite a few of them when the tomatoes were ripe. We had some before we left for Alaska and I think I will get a few more in now that we are back. I have learned to bake my bacon so that it does not make such a mess. I put it in the oven at 375 degrees for about twenty minutes and it gets nice and crispy.

Canning tomatoes was a fall staple. I loved those tomatoes in the jar because you could use them for so many things. Once I had my tomatoes done, I relaxed. I would go to the garden to pick the tomatoes, then start in.

I loved to slip the skins after they sat in boiling water for a few minutes. I had ice water ready after the scalding. The skins then slipped right off.

Canning is a messy process, but it was worth the effort. Each year when I was on the farm, I canned a couple of bushel of tomatoes. While it was not easy to can when I lived in the trailer, I did it because I needed food for the winter.

When you can tomatoes you simply put them into the jar packing them down after each addition and add a little salt. Then you process them. The processing time is 45 minutes for quarts when you cold-pack them.

The tricky part of canning tomatoes is to get the jars to seal. There cannot be even one seed or the jar will not seal.

Sometimes I canned tomato juice. I even tried to create my own V-8 juice. I got quite good at it. The tomatoes I canned I used to make spaghetti sauce, soup, and goulash. Those are meals we had frequently. When I was feeding the hayers it took a lot of food since there were often ten people at my table. I got in the habit of keeping things in the freezer so I always had meat to use in my dishes.

When I was canning, I had to use large kettles filled with water. I do not remember just how I carried them, but I did – even when I was pregnant. Hard work did not hurt me. My body adapted to it well. In those days I did not carry any extra pounds. I think the exercise kept them off. Of course, at that time I was also chasing two active children.

I never minded canning tomatoes. Although it took a lot of time since I was a stay-at-home mother, I had plenty of time. It was after I began teaching that the days became very long. I hurried home after school and had canning to do. My canner set on my stove for at least the whole month of September.

When I got home at night, I attacked whatever needed to be put into jars. We had our own pears. I did not enjoy canning pears quite as much because only a few were ready each evening. When you can pears you get very sticky. I had syrup up to my elbows every night and required a bath every night. We did not have a shower back then so it was into the tub before bed.

It was great to be able to go down cellar to get fruit and vegetables all winter long. I canned a lot in those days. Of course, in the years I was alone I did not can much. I did not really need a lot of food.

When the grandchildren were small, I babysat for each family one day a week. The day I babysat I also made supper for that family. I knew what it was to work and have to come home and cook a meal for the family so I knew the girls appreciated it. We had a lot of family time back then.

I have always cooked and enjoyed it. It was a challenge to see what I could put together for a meal. I was up to the challenge. As we sat in Alaska and watched Melanie prepare food for her large family it reminded me of days gone by. Although I did not have to hunt and fish for my food, I did freeze and can it for future use.

Her dad makes fun of the pantry that I keep, but the day we returned from our trip I had enough to work with to create a decent meal. Maybe he is beginning to appreciate my methods.

Ann Swanson writes from her home in Russell, PA. Contact at hickoryheights1@verizon.net.

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