Tomatoes and Memories

Photo by Doug DeMoss

(Story about my Mom and gardening begins in the second paragraph.) Believe it or not, this week wasn’t all about books! The tomatoes in my garden are coming in fast and heavy, and I did a lot of canning this week. I haven’t posted about canning much, but I do enjoy water bath and pressure canning when I get a chance. This week I had to take time off work to keep up with these tomatoes, and on two different days I put up about 20 quarts, 5 pints of tomatoes, and five half-pints of green tomato jam (lemony and delicious, I promise). I still have more tomatoes to can, so I’m thinking about spicy ketchup or tomato chutney of some kind. If you have any suggestions, let me know.

I have been canning off and on for years, but there is a story behind these tomatoes that make them mean so much to me. My mom was an avid and gifted gardener. She grew up in the mountains of North Carolina in the 1930s/40s with eleven brothers and sisters, and a Dad who was a farmer and logger. She helped out in the house, and and she also helped her Mom can the garden bounty in a washtub out in the yard over an open fire, as they did not yet have electricity. Mom moved to Cincinnati when she married my Dad and we lived in a poorer suburb, but she always had a magnificent garden. My whole life growing up we had garden vegetables in the summer and home-canned vegetables in the winter. I never thought much about it, but we were eating well, despite being a family of 10 in a three-bedroom house..

When my Dad retired, he and my Mom moved back to those North Carolina mountains and she had a garden for the 20 years they were able to stay there. She always had home-canned green beans, tomatoes, and sauerkraut, as well as other vegetables and fruits, and she was happy to give them to her kids. Consequently I still was able to eat home-canned vegetables more than most. When health problems became too much for them, they moved back to Cincinnati so my sister could help them. My Mom immediately started a garden and kept it up, even when her health began to deteriorate. My Dad had dementia and heart problems, and passed in 2019.

When my Mom died suddenly in March 2020, she left behind tomato seedlings she had already started. My brother gathered them and split them up between the siblings. I planted my share of those seedlings, and they didn’t do very well at all. However, I got enough tomatoes to get seeds for this year. This year my husband and I planted the seeds, and the plants have thrived! We call them Granny Tomatoes, because my mom always went by Granny to her many kids, grandkids, and great grandkids. We put in about 20 Granny plants and about 10 Romas, and the bounty has been plentiful, with many more still on the vines. So these tomatoes to me are more than just a garden treat. They are a legacy, one of which I am very proud.

Photo by Doug DeMoss

All of the tomato photos were taken by my husband in our tomato garden, as was the one I put on the main page of this blog.

The first two photos are my Mom (Dorothy Jenkins Zinser) at 16. The original version is on the left and a colorized version is in the middle. On the right is my Mom at almost 88, making sauerkraut in October 2019. She went to Heaven five months later.

15 thoughts on “Tomatoes and Memories”

  1. I love the story (and photos) of your mom! I made a big batch of tomato salsa yesterday to freeze. (I’ve never dared try water bath canning for fear of poisoning the family with botulism.) I like your husband’s tomato still life photos, too.

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    1. Thanks Liz! Mom loved her garden! Water bathing salsa is tricky, because the added onions and peppers lower the acidity. If you ever decide to water bath can it, you could carefully balance the acidity with extra citrus to make it safe, or just pressure can them, and they will be safe that way. Some people are afraid of pressure canning, but it’s quite easy. I would love your salsa recipe.

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  2. I loved reading this post, Bonnie, thank you for your beautiful memories. It reminded me so much of my childhood and the wonderful memories that I have of the gardens of my parents, and both my maternal and paternal grandparents.

    Canning (or preserving as we called it) was a given, and something that the entire family participated in. Dad even installed special shelving to accommodate the bounty, filled up with jars of fruits, tomatoes, sauces, jams, pickles, relish etc. in summer and empty by the time the next canning season commenced!

    We always made a homemade tomato ketchup (or sauce as we call it) which I still make. It is amazing and much sought after by family and friends, so much so, that we made miniature bottles of it for the bonboniere at our son’s wedding earlier this year. We love it with barbecued meats, particularly sausages and lamb, and some have it on eggs and with polish sausage and the like.

    It is nearing the end of winter here and I am about to plant tomato seeds in readiness for our summer.

    Happy canning.

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    1. I’m so glad it spoke to you! I’m so glad we have these family traditions and recipes. They’re healthier and taste better than processed food. I would love to have your ketchup recipe if you are willing to share it.

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