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The Mast-Head: Yes We Can

Wed, 10/02/2019 - 19:51

Four pints of Roma tomatoes and Laura Donnelly shamed me into getting the preserving kettle out early Monday morning. I had picked up the smallish, hard tomatoes a week or more earlier with the intention of canning them sooner, but instead they had just been shunted and shifted from one place to another around the kitchen as the clock of ripeness ticked. One day they were on the windowsill, the next the mantelpiece, then the next on a different, now north-facing windowsill.

Glancing at them quickly while making the first cup of coffee of my workweek, I noticed some beginning to wrinkle, as if showing their age around the corners of their eyes.

Laura, of course, is The Star’s food editor, and she makes all sorts of kitchen wizardry seem routine. This perhaps comes from her training as a pastry chef, a breed of cook for which complicated and precise preparations are all in a day’s work. “Easy-peasy,” I swear to bub, she wrote in her column just a week ago about whipping up fresh tomato sauce to store in the freezer. Yeah, right, Laura . . . you and her Royal Highness Ina Garten just make it look that way. But, hey, I had only four by-then-shrinking pints of Romas to deal with, so I had no excuse for letting them go bad.

Food nags of the sort that wrote the classic “Putting Food By” might raise the caution flag about canning week-old tomatoes, but I have done this quite a few times and not had a failure yet. I adhere strictly to the recommended rules about sterilizing jars, lids, and utensils, as well as the mandated boiling-water baths to kill anything invisible and creepy that makes it under the lids before the tops are screwed down.

So I blanched the tomatoes in boiling water as the sky through the kitchen windows began to lighten. As pink and orange appeared in the east, I peeled away the skins, and checked each Roma for bad spots.

The sun was up and the dogs menacing for breakfast by the time I spooned the boiled tomatoes into the jars. Ellis was up and roaming around without a stitch on as I lifted the pint jars — all two of them — from their final bath. Work was still about an hour off when they had cooled enough for me to mark the tops with the date and tuck them away in a dark cabinet.

Easy-peasy, right, Laura? Anyhow, it was a nice way to start a day.