Canning My Own Tomatoes

13 Sep

This is how I can tomatoes: with words. In past years I have canned them with jars. Lovely, shining, wide-mouth Mason jars, topped with golden rings and flowery caps. I have waited in nervous expectation for them to seal, for them to justify my time and energy and sweat. And, almost always, I have been rewarded with a “ping” of success. Ah, sweet music to a canner’s ears.

But not anymore. Well, maybe someday again, but not for now. Nor, I’m sure, for a long time to come. Canning is a HUGE job. No, it’s not difficult, per say, but it’s messy, hot, and sticky…times a thousand. Every surface of my kitchen would need wiping down after I canned tomatoes. And I needed a shower. Badly. Yes, it’s rewarding. Yes, I loved having MY tomatoes on the shelf all winter long, lending the taste of summer to my spaghetti sauce. I LOVED that. But not enough to do it anymore.

Who knew such beauty could come from a lowly whiskey barrel?


For one thing, I’d have to have a garden. Or at least a whole lot more tomatoes than I have now in my four whiskey-barrels. And to have a garden I’d need a fence. And to have a fence I’d need time and energy and commitment to this lifestyle called gardening in order to justify the expense of the fence and the fertilizer (perhaps Rita could give me some cow-poop for free?). But most of all, the sheer loss of writing time while out weeding, watering and harvesting keeps my fingernails clean and my thumb less than green. Yes, I have a lot of excuses.

But seriously, writing – and figuring out this writing life – is captivating/controlling/fulfilling me right now. I cannot do everything…and so gardening is out. If only we had more TIME. Time to clean, play, parent, garden, write, sleep, eat, work, drive, can, read, volunteer, befriend a lonely orphan…the list goes on. Canning is definitely out.

How is it that some people seem to have time to do all of that and then some? I am not one of those people. There are too many books calling to be read. Too many sentences begging to be edited. Too many blogs to check out. This is my life right now, and I’m okay with that.

Don’t get me wrong: I liked canning. Other than the mess. I liked feeling a communion with my mother, my Scottish grandmother. I liked feeling like I was contributing. Liked feeling like a homemaker, a provider. Like I was Ma Ingalls. After all, Walnut Grove is only a couple of hours from here; maybe there’s something in the air in these parts, some tomato-laden scent that calls a person with the voice of those pioneer women, enticing them jar-wards. Just call me Caroline.


Yeah, dream on, Self. I never was more than a one-hit wonder in the canning world. I never canned anything other than tomatoes – oh, and a few kinds of jam, come to think of it. I did write a poem about canned beans once. It was the only poem I wrote that my college poetry professor ever liked. I got into his class because he thought I was related to someone…only I wasn’t. There aren’t a lot of poets out there with the last name of “Wendt” and it turns out that Ingrid Wendt was a known Eugene-area poet of the time. All these English profs and secretaries in the department kept asking me if she was my mother – it was very confusing at first – but turned out to be to my benefit, so thanks, Ingrid, if you ever read this!

Anyway, I’ll see if I can find that poem just for giggles. I know I still have it somewhere in the depths of my box of college memorabilia. I wrote it during Music Appreciation class one afternoon – shhh – don’t tell my kids I wasn’t paying attention to the teacher.

So, yes, sadly, (but to the joy of anti-botulism fans everywhere) the only beans I ever canned were in my poem. And the only tomatoes these days are in words, too. The jam is long gone, the jars mostly broken. But the words remain. Perhaps that’s the best kind of canning, after all.

At least for me.

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14 Responses to “Canning My Own Tomatoes”

  1. Kimberly Robertson September 13, 2011 at 7:12 am #

    The sweetest treat of all is decanting the deliciousness of a well-turned phrase. To pop the seal on a simile with symetry. Or to pour out a helping of parallelism. If Ma Ingalls had time to capture her life in words, she would have. But she was too busy canning. It’s why Laura picked up the writing mantle. So glad to see you wrapping yourself in yours. As another seeking to walk the ragged edge of the writing life, I lift my canning jar (turned drinking glass) in salute!

    • Gretchen O'Donnell September 13, 2011 at 9:51 am #

      :o) Love it! And yes, a lot of people do drink out of canning jar-glasses, don’t they? Part of me likes that…and part of me feels guilty that the jar isn’t filled with tomatoes.

  2. Andrea September 13, 2011 at 8:55 am #

    Another nice one.

    • Gretchen O'Donnell September 13, 2011 at 9:52 am #

      Somehow writing about canning just comes naturally. It’s in my blood. Did Grandma Wendt ever can? Somehow I couldn’t picture her doing that!

  3. Betsy Patton September 13, 2011 at 10:10 am #

    Hi Gretchen,
    I knew Ingrid Wendt. We sang together years ago in the Eugene Concert Choir. I’m enjoying your blogs. Just discovered them.
    Love, Aunt Betsy

    • Gretchen O'Donnell September 13, 2011 at 10:14 am #

      No way! I didn’t know you knew her! That’s wild. I’m so glad you’re here!

  4. ceciliag September 13, 2011 at 10:50 am #

    I feel so sad for you not being able to garden, i love the garden. i will garden for you! c

    • Gretchen O'Donnell September 13, 2011 at 12:02 pm #

      Marvelous! I do enjoy my four whiskey barrels!! And truly, we’d love to have a garden again someday. I had one the first year we moved here. If I do it again, though, I want to do it right – with a serious deer-keeping-out fence, nice little paths separating out the different areas…yeah, a girl can dream!

  5. Amy Ellis September 13, 2011 at 9:46 pm #

    Someday (though not today), look into permaculture. You could have a garden sans weeding, though you do have to do a bit in the first few years… but you let it self reseed, and plant it so that you water at one spot and the water the rest needs trickles to it.. and get a coupla chickens to do the pest control… fun stuff.

    But that’s for Some Day, and probably never for canning quantities.

    I admire your canning, I still have not been brave enough to give it a go. The dehydrating is less frightening, and probably a bit less messy (some of the time).

    • Gretchen O'Donnell September 14, 2011 at 6:36 am #

      The canning really isn’t hard…it’s just, yes, a MESS! And you need a lot of counter space! Of course, canning something like beans means more equipment to keep away those pesky botulism germs. I admire your dehydrating! I’ve never given that a try, but every time I hear about it I think that I should!

    • Gretchen O'Donnell September 14, 2011 at 6:38 am #

      Oh, and thanks for the permaculture…for someday!

      • Marti Smith September 16, 2011 at 7:50 pm #

        I believe I still have a copy of “Green Beans,” by Gretchen Wendt. 🙂 Want me to scan and send it to you?

  6. Stacey Greely September 19, 2011 at 10:49 pm #

    I’m reminded of your post from some time back, about the library and having your name in a library book card pocket. This is belonging/preserving of another kind: your words as staying power, as connection to both ur ancestors and future generations. I would guess you remember stories read to you on someone’s knee way more than their 3-bean casserole, organic.

    • Gretchen O'Donnell September 20, 2011 at 7:27 am #

      Yes, Stacey – you are right! Words remain long after the casserole. I’ve always said that I don’t have comfort foods…I have comfort books! I think I need to blog about that…

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