Wednesday arrived. We set out for the produce auction, armed with our bidding number and a plan. A plan that was in keeping with our new found commitment to balance. We would buy enough tomatoes to make tomato sauce. That would be the time consuming project. We would buy a flat of the beautiful yellow pear tomatoes and a flat of red to make pickled pear tomatoes, a much quicker process.
The crowd looked different and it was bigger. There were not very many boxes of tomatoes and people were circling them like sharks. And tragedy of tragedies, there were no pear tomatoes. The disappointment was palpable and we will admit it here, in hindsight, quite foolish. We staked out a spot by a flat of tomatoes as if our standing there looking mean would make someone afraid to bid against us. The bidding started and it didn’t take us long to realize that this week’s crowd was willing to spend double what last week’s crowd had. What was going on? We thought we’d learned our lesson in the blueberry field. We had a better plan, didn’t we? Yet, here we were, knowing what we were feeling was ridiculous, but feeling it none the less. We might have fooled ourselves thinking we’d smartened up but obviously the fates were wise to us and had one more cosmic slapdown to mete out. In our defense, we asked the right questions, so we knew what we needed to make the spaghetti sauce. We did stray in to the “maybe we should buy three boxes” area for a bit but with prices so high we came to our senses and left with one twenty five pound box of tomatoes.
On Saturday, with tomatoes covering every square inch of the kitchen table, we started chopping fresh herbs and blanching tomatoes-25 pounds of little x’s carved in their bottoms, 30 seconds in hot water, cold water bath, coring, peeling and chopping. Seventy minutes of simmering, 35 minutes of processing. It took the whole day. But it was a glorious day. We worked hard for almost 8 hours and had something, in our opinion at least, spectacular to show for it. We weren’t tired; we were happy. The fates knew what they were doing that night when they made it impossible for us to buy what we thought we needed. We ended up with exactly what we needed-one box, one project.
Lesson learned? We hope so. We think so. We’re pretty certain.
For decades our lives had moved at a frantic pace. We worked hard to ensure that our children’s lives didn’t. We wanted them to have balanced, calm and happy childhoods. We left things undone so we could enjoy a walk in the park, a trip to the beach, a movie. Those things nagged at us though, like a hangnail. It seemed sometimes as if we were always thinking anxiously about those to do lists residing in our heads.
Empty nest is hard but there are opportunities hiding in the corners of that melancholy. We had found ours in cooking, field trips and the blog. We learned to slow down our cooking so we could enjoy the work as well the end result. It took us all summer to learn the lesson the fates were trying to teach us. We needed to stop moving to the rhythm of single motherhood and start finding the rhythm of the empty nest.
- 12 lbs. tomatoes peeled
- 3 tbsp. packed brown sugar
- 1 tbsp. kosher salt
- 1 tbsp. balsamic vinegar
- 1 tsp. black pepper
- 2 cups lightly packed fresh basil leaves snipped
- 1 cup lightly packed fresh italian flat leafed parsley and oregano snipped
- 1 tbsp. crushed red pepper
- 12 tbsp. organic lemon juice
Blanch and peel tomatoes, cut into chunks, add some of the chunks to a food processor. Cover and process until chopped. Transfer chopped tomatoes to a 7-8 qt. stainless steel, enamel, or non stick heavy pot. Repeat chopping remaining tomatoes in batches in the food process. Add all the tomatoes to the pot. Add brown sugar, salt, vinegar and pepper to the pot. Bring to boiling, stirring often, reduce heat. Simmer uncovered for 70 – 80 minutes or until mixture is reduced to sauce consistency. Remove from heat. Stir in basil, oregano and parsley and if desired, crushed red pepper. Spoon 2 tbsp. of lemon juice into each of 6 hot sterilized quart canning jars. Ladle hot sauce into jars with lemon juice, leaving a 1/2 inch head space. Wipe jar rims and adjust lids. Process filled jars in a boiling water canner for 35 minutes. Start timing when water returns to boiling. Remove jars from canner and cool on wire racks. Makes 6 quarts.