i used to love her set up. 30 years ago it was a simple one....a couple of pots on the stove only large enough to cook the tomatoes in small batches.......a simple hand cranked machine bolted to a table used to separate the seeds and skin from the sauce...aprons and head scarves to keep our clothes clean and our hair on our heads. all the work was done inside our basement - and for days the smell of cooked tomatoes would linger in our homes, our hair, our clothes.
the set up has evolved over the years. the simple hand crank was replaced with a motorized version - perfect for not only cutting canning time in half but also for increasing the chances of being hit with scalding hot splats of sauce....which i quickly got used to and accepted as something that just came with the job.
commercial sized pots and propane burners replaced the stovetop - an outside sink was added that allowed us to move the whole, messy process outside.
as i grew, my duties changed over the years. at first it was my job to switch out the scraps bucket as it filled - a bucket full of skins and seeds that was dumped into the chicken coop - a special yearly treat for them. as i got older i was allowed to scrape the pulp from the strainer as the sauce poured into the pots. this may sound simple - but it was tricky. i had to be quick and out of the way - careful not to disturb the rhythm of the older women who were very busy scooping and straining and filling jars. i remember being so proud of the year i was allowed to ladle the cooked tomatoes from the pots on the stove and carefully maneuver them into the wide mouth of the funnel with one hand - while using my free hand to plunge them deep into the strainer hole with the wooden mallet.
right around the time i reached this milestone - i also reached another one.......i became a teenager........and the idea of spending hours with my mother, performing a duty i thought was stupid and old fashioned was not my idea of fun...........so i made myself unavailable..........for years.......
eventually i got married, had a family and began helping again....this time with a new appreciation for this age old process. at 30 i was "old enough" to do it all - cook, scoop, scrape and...gasp...handle the hot jars filled with sauce.
as the amount of baskets decreased, the amount of people helping did as well. soon it was just me and my mom....alone. i performed my duties grudgingly...she needed help and it was my responsibility to help her. our relationship was strained - well, my relationship with her was strained. i spent most of my life hating her. i couldn't understand her - didn't want to understand her struggles, her life. i didn't think she was wise and strong....i thought she was weak and stupid........
then things changed - *i* changed. i started to see her for the woman she was - the young immigrant woman who left her country with the man she married...a woman who raised 2 young children in a country where she couldn't speak the language. she had strength and wisdom. she was my mother.
the past couple of years i have looked forward to the canning season. it is no longer a duty but instead one i cherish. a time i know will one day be taken away from me. my mother shares stories about her relationship with her mother. we exchange wisdoms - one filled with life experience - the other with new.
this year we only canned 65 jars. by the time i got to her house to help she was half way done them. i only had a few hours of our precious time together and i was surprised at how disappointed i was about that. although we see each other a lot we are rarely alone together. next year, however, i will plan ahead - i will get up early and meet her in the early hours of the day. our time together is about more than just tomatoes...and i will do whatever it takes to "can" those moments so i can keep them forever in my heart.