Monday, November 21, 2011

Canning Tomatoes

Ah, a rainy day free from teaching commitments, a day to have a leisurely yoga practice, putter around the house, perhaps spend some time curled up with a good book and lovely cup of tea. But wait... who put those two huge boxes of tomatoes on my porch? I did?

Oh well, so much for tea and a book, I'll be processing these tomatoes for a few hours, at least. Step one: round up pint canning jars, lids, and rings. Step two: wash out the water bath canner, and get it going on the stove. Step three: wash tomatoes, while watching golden leaves leap and dive outside the window. Step four: drop tomatoes into boiling water to loosen their skins. Step five: put on some good music- this is going to take awhile. Step six: I may need that tea after all. Step seven: where was I?

Oh yes, I believe I was up to my elbows in beautiful red and yellow tomatoes from the Elmer Farm! I put the peeled tomatoes into two large pots on the stove, to cook them down a bit. Usually about half way through this process I begin asking myself WHY  I took on this project. It's not like I can't go to the store any day, in any season, and pick up a can of tomatoes. So why do I do this, year after year?

One of my favorite folk singers, Greg Brown, sings about his grandmother "putting summer in a jar." There is something amazing about that flavor we capture, when we take the time to put our harvest into mason jars. I guess that's why I make homemade salsa, applesauce, blueberry jam. All of these things are easily purchased, and when you add up the expense of buying fruit, canning jars, and electricity to heat water and run the stove, it probably doesn't save much money to do it yourself. But whether or not it makes economic sense, it makes sense in my heart, when I see all those jars lined up on the pantry shelves.

And Muir Glen, the brand of canned organic tomatoes, is owned by General Mills, the same company that brings us Cocoa Puffs, Lucky Charms,  and Count Chocula "breakfast cereals." I'd much rather give my money to the Elmer Farm!

A beautiful Buddhist teaching describes the Jeweled Net of Indra. This mythical net unfolds infinitely in every direction. At each node of the net is a multi-faceted jewel, sparkling with light, and reflecting the brilliance of all the other jewels at every other node in the net. A metaphor for the interconnectedness of all things, Indra's net reminds us of how we are all woven together, and can reflect one another's light. Some scientists have suggested this analogy as a way to describe the universe and the functioning of the human brain!

For some reason, buying my winter supply of tomatoes from my good friends down the road, and putting them up in jars I've used season after season, helps me feel more connected to the section of Indra's net that we call Addison County, Vermont.

There are so many forces beyond my control, so many things I wish I could change. I wish I could wave a wand and stop arms merchants from profiting from human suffering on every continent. I wish I could give my daughter and all our children a world free from war. I wish I could sequester all the carbon heating our precious earth, and give every village in the world clean, pure water to drink. But for today, it may just have to be enough to can some produce. Now the 21 gleaming pints of tomatoes are on the shelf. They look like jewels to me.


This was previously published in the Addison Independent under the title "Canning Tomatoes on a Rainy Day."