Tomato Panic

Photo by Karolina Grabowska on

I love September. LOVE IT.

I don’t think I’m unique in feeling like September is the new New Year. It marked the start of school, new adventures when I went off to University and 29 years later when I sent Child off to start the next phase of Learnin’ in his life. We’ve marked hockey tryouts and the start of house league. We’ve prepared for open house at the Army Cadet corps where all of us in the Casa di Swears residents have served and volunteered. This year, Child’s second year of Air Force Engineering is happening with the help of technology in the Casa Di Swears Lecture Hall and Doggie Nap Room. I don’t need to even mention how different this September is from every September that has come before it.

September is my anchor to known things. As the nights get cooler, my eye at the Farmer’s market is drawn to the incomparable red of half-bushels of Roma or San Marzano tomatoes. Every September, I inventory the jars in my basement to ensure that there are enough get La Famiglia through the crappy-tomato-months of winter. And no matter what the total, I’m never convinced it’s actually enough.

I grow tomatoes. I buy at least a few half-bushels. I take them from friends and family that are overrun with tomatoes. I take them all. And then, when my cuticles are stained from peeling the heirlooms that have been most recently stuffed into jars, I worry. Is that enough? Is that really enough pizza sauce and stewed tomatoes and roasted tomato sauce? Is one freezer bag, stuffed full of halved and slow-roasted tomatoes enough for all the delicious things I want to make all winter? Is two quart jars, full of powdered tomato peels, oiled and dried until they crumble in my hand, is that enough to sprinkle into eggs and rice and meatballs and made into Bloody Mary rimmer for a whole year?

What if I’m berift of tomatoey goodness in February? What will happen? So we do lunatic tomato math to make sure that there are enough jars of various tomato recipes to get me through. And when I say we, I mean me. There’s chili+pasta sauce+minestrone+pizza, times 9 months times 4 weeks divided by the Family Soup Rotation factor of 5 weeks, plus salsa to the power of meatless Christmas Eve and fast and abstinence during Lent. And I’m anxious that the math doesn’t work out. Math has never been my strong suit, you know. And I don’t think there’s anyone who can even check my work reliably. It’s “new math”. Yeah, it’s something, all right.

It’s truly nutty. That’s what it is.

But I know where it comes from. When I was young, we had spaghetti on Thursday nights at my grandmothers house. Chicken Soup was Sunday, but pasta was Thursdays. And if you were expected and you didn’t show up (or even tried to give your regrets), you’d best have a death certificate to back you up. You didn’t miss Thursday Spaghetti Night. It didn’t matter if you had tickets to a school dance that was cancelled because of bad weather and rescheduled for a Thursday. Billy Idol would have to Dance with Himself without you. The ’80’s were a wild ride.

We don’t gather for spaghetti anymore. We haven’t as a larger family for 30+ years. I mean, we’ve had spaghetti lots of times on Thursday since, but it’s not the same circling of the wagons at my grandmother’s table. She gathered her children and grandchildren to her kitchen and she cooked the pork hocks and the sausage in the sauce to make it more flavourful. When we get our half-pig, I always ask for the hocks and the tail for just this reason.

It’s the lasagna that my Uncle Jack made with the sauce. So thick that you had to get the Extra Deep pan to cook it in, with layers of diced coppa and salami instead of plain old candyass ground beef.

It’s the braciole that my Uncle Beano made, that I pined for when I was away at university, and the dining hall thought that parmesan cheese came in green shelf-stable cardboard tubes. Just, no.

It’s the homemade pizza that my mom made when my friends slept over. It was pressed into stolen Stoney Creek Dairy trays sprinkled with cornmeal, with pepperoni that was dried, sliced and chopped (not this lunch meat business that has become ubiquitous with most pizza). And it’s the cottage cheese containers stained with the leftover sauce from this enterprise that she put into the freezer for next time.

It’s even the tomatoes that my gentleman associate puts in Cool Cat Daddio’s Chili. And the toasted tomato sandwiches made with still-warm-from-the-sun tomatoes, so juicy that you need to wash your hands all the way up to the elbow when you’re done eating. Which may or may not be what I’m now craving for dinner. Mmmm….

But yes, tomatoes feel like the safety of home. And in times of uncertainty, dozens and dozens of tomato-filled jars in my basement make me feel like maybe, somehow, this whole thing is going to turn out OK.

May your September as rife with good things, friends.

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