I have been very busy with my canning projects these last few days. And I’ve learned several things. When I announced my canning ambitions to Chris, he paused thoughtfully, cocked his head and said accusingly “You’re trying to get us off the grid, aren’t you?!” I gave the idea some thought and realized that I absolutely am. It’s not that I don’t want to be around society. I’ll tell you a story in a moment to prove it. It’s just that I like the idea that if society falls, I could sustain us. I know how to catch wild yeast, bake in open fire, preserve food, mill corn into masa, and purify water. I can recognize lots of different foods, and understand that if you lick a mushroom and it stings your tongue, it’s likely poisonous. I think I’m getting close to making us a potentially sustainable household. And I’d kill to have a house equipped with solar and wind power. Seriously. But as I said, I’d get lonely. During my canning days I was pretty isolated, and I think I have spent too much time away from the company of people, or at least away from the opportunities to boss them around.
I say this because I was at the grocery store earlier today and there was a bearded, rotund guy in his mid-sixties standing in the same aisle as me. This was pretty much where he went wrong. It was just the two of us, which is highly unusual in our local supermarket. It’s not uncommon for children and the elderly to be trampled to death beneath the teeming masses of shopping Texans who, when seated, are the size and shape of Volkswagen Beetles, all searching desperately for the last packet of the advertised fried pork rectums for $.35 a lb. I regard our local supermarket with the sense of loathing I usually reserve for stinging insects and/or acts of genocide.
Anyway, he was searching the shelves of salad dressing for some time before a store worker passed close enough to be bodily grabbed by Mr. Beard. It turns out the guy was looking for a salad dressing his wife had told him to get. This makes sense, because in my experience a man will only spend that much time shopping for something if his wife has yelled at him, repeatedly, for coming home with the wrong item. If a man is shopping for himself he’ll usually treat the trip as a food-getting derby of sorts, his cart being raced at Nascar speeds down the aisle, grabbing items without looking up at all. This sometimes results in comical food substitutions, such as Doritos dipped in strawberry yogurt as opposed to the item on the list (Nacho Cheez). But this guy was working really hard to locate something called “Tangy Tomato with Bacon” dressing. First off, ew. But I’m not here to judge (lie), so I just eavesdropped and pretended to study my canning jar options. The store worker was also a guy, which meant they both stood there staring at the shelves and shelves of dressing options, but actually SEEING none of them. The store worker shrugged and said he didn’t see it either. So after he left, I shimmied over toward Mr. Beard as inconspicuously as I could and had the following conversation:
Me: “There are so many OPTIONS!”
Beard: “Yeeeap. Sure are. Can’t find the darned one I need.” *extreme Texas accent*
Me: (innocently): “Oh? Which one are you looking for?”
Beard: “Tangy Tomato with Bacon.”
Me: “We need to figure out the brand.”
Beard: “I already called my wife and she didn’t answer.”
Me: (I have already pulled out my iPhone and begun to Google like a maniac) “Here we go! That dressing is made by Kraft!”
Beard:(suspiciously) “So you’re a texter…?”
Me: (cheerfully)”More of a Googler, actually. Let’s look at the Kraft section!”
—We look, and it is nowhere to be found—
Me: “I’m sorry to butt in like that.”
Beard: “Not a problem, young lady. Thanks. I’ll just get this sundried tomato vinaigrette and she can cook some bacon to put in it.”
Here’s the great part. Despite having already apologized for butting into his shopping, I hear my mouth saying the words “Um…actually, she’s not going to want that at all. If you want her to modify it to make the one she wants, you should go with maybe a Catalina because it’s more like the tangy tomato base. And here are some pre-cooked bacon crumbles to put in it.” The guy started to back away, still clutching his vinaigrette and looking irritated. Awesome. I started to blush and said “I’m so sorry. I’m a busybody.” He just raised his bushy eyebrows and sped up the backing until he was around the corner. I actually FRIGHTENED an old man. So maybe my canned food will come in handy when I get banned from the supermarket for disturbing the hapless customers.
Anyway, back to canning.
Here’s the thing about canning: it’s hard work. I didn’t think it would be, for some reason. I pictured myself packing tomatoes into jars, putting the lids on, and boiling them. And that’s not how it really happens, unless you’re fond of paralysis and/or death. My giant batch of tomatoes has now been turned into two different things, on two different days, in two different kinds of jar. I was so impressed with myself that I was doing the Zoomba dance in the kitchen. But to get it there, I had to perform a number of very precise steps.
First, you have to peel all of the tomatoes. This means you cut an “x” into the bottom of each tomato. Even though there are about 4 million tomatoes in the giant box you got from the farmer. This should take long enough that you start developing forearm cramps. Then you boil water in a really big pot, and fill another really big pot with ice water. You dump your tomatoes, batch by batch, into the boiling water, until the skin starts to float around the tomatoes like a big, red leper colony. It is of utmost importance that you splash yourself with boiling water when you do this. The splotchy red burns on your arms motivate the tomatoes to let their skin fall all the way off. You remove the tomatoes from the boiling water and put them in the ice water, either causing the ice water to overflow all over the counter and underneath the plugged-in toaster OR you put the tomatoes in and discover you haven’t put enough water in your second pot, causing you to frantically rush around the kitchen trying to find a clean pitcher to add water and ice to the bath. I tried both methods and didn’t really notice a difference in the outcome of the tomatoes.
After a moment, you reach your hand into the water and grab a tomato, discovering too late that it is now both still hot AND incredibly slippery. You drop the first tomato, much to the delight of your dog, and it splatters on the floor, your pants, and any nearby cabinets with tomato poop. Try again, and pull the skin off. Repeat this process, feeding every third tomato to your pants and the dog, until all of the tomatoes have been peeled.
Now you have to core your tomatoes! Dig around your house for 5-10 minutes before discovering that you don’t own a suitable tomato corer, then settle for kind of crushing them with your bare hands and hoping that you’ve pinched the core bits off and kept them in your fist. This is the step that splashes your decolletage with blistering hot seeds. Also your shirt. Swear incessantly at high volume, attempting to use the F-word so much that your dog begins to understand it as a command that means “come into the kitchen, as I’ve dropped something you can eat.”
Once you’ve crushed all of the tomatoes into a pot, turn the pot onto high. Try to forget the fact that boiling tomato sludge pops and splatters like molten lava. Surely there are still parts of your hands that haven’t been scalded beyond recognition! This must be rectified! Add salt.
Take the giant canning pot and fill it with water. Realize it is now to heavy to lift, and scoop out the water with a pint glass until it’s light enough to lift. Take it to the stove and put it on your burner, realizing quickly that you don’t have a burner large enough to accomodate such a large pot. Laugh heartily at your misfortune. Try NOT to use the F-word, as there isn’t any food on the floor at the moment, and you don’t want your dog to unlearn his fun, new trick.
Put all of the jars into the giant pot and attempt to bring to a boil. Remove the jars and fill with your tomato mixture and a tablespoon of lemon juice to prevent poisoning. Realize that your ladle is sloshing tomato all over the counter, getting very little into the jars.
Form a crude funnel out of aluminum foil, realize you should have paid more attention in geometry because your funnel has only made the jar opening SMALLER, and try again.
There you go! Now pour the tomato mixture into the jars, again spilling a goodly portion onto your hands. Remember! If your skin is only 75% covered in first-degree burns, then only 75% of your food will be first-class food!
Seal the lids in a fumbling, ineffective manner that suggests you’ve only recently learned how to operate those funny little “fingers” dangling from your hands. Place into the giant pot and boil for 30 minutes. Remove from the boiling water, praying that you won’t drop the jars and spray yourself in the face with hot fluid, and walk away. Soon you should hear festive popping like champagne corks on New Years. That means you’ve succeeded.
Now go call 911. Some of those burns are starting to look like they’ve gone all the way through the epidermal layer and partially poached you.
See?! Couldn’t be easier!! Do the same thing for the salsa the very next day, repeating all of the steps, but adding a sack of jalapenos that you’ve blistered and painstakingly peeled, one-by-one.
Wear gloves for this step so that none of the jalapeno juice gets into your (probably infected) burns. The key to this part is that you have to accidentally leave the protective gloves on your hands long enough to wipe a stray piece of bangs out of your eye, thus creating a sensation of being tasered directly on the iris and permanently damaging your vision.
I named my salsa “Hymenoptera Salsa–Sting may cause a reaction.” It’s an allergy joke that I find endlessly amusing on account of Chris’s job. The runner up name for the salsa was “Kristie’s Lone Star Juice–Because everything’s hotter in Texas but the Texans!” I thought that was funny, but potentially offensive to any Texans who may receive a lil’ jar-o-botulus for a Christmas present or bribe. See how forward-thinking I am?