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Finding harmony: Canning tomatoes with a daughter

August 7, 2013

My daughter was home for three blessed weeks the middle of this summer, on a break from her grad school projects and studies in urban ecology.


Doreen at one of her work sites for grad school, last fall.

She couldn’t have come at a better time for the garden and she actually kind of grooves on gardening, partly because of her interests in ecology. She whipped our garden into shape, especially the tomatoes which had started to run amok while I was on vacation (the amok dilemma I covered in detail a few years ago in this Another Way column). Her visit was also nicely timed with the beginning of our harvest of tomatoes and beans and corn and cucumbers and green peppers.



Canning and daughters (I’m sure if I’d had sons they would have helped too) has long been an honored tradition. But yesterday morning my mind was filled with melancholy because she was leaving to go back to school, and I was thinking about a woman named June Marie who died Aug. 2. My husband and I had gone to the family greeting time the night before. June was the wife of a man who had been my boss for 25 years as the director of Mennonite Media (and all the names it was called before that). I’m not actually sure how much gardening they did (Ken always implied they had stopped gardening because in drought years, nothing much grew and in good years, everyone was sneaking zucchinis into your car in the parking lot at church).

But June Marie’s granddaughters at least remembered and treasured the homemade applesauce she made and gave them. I couldn’t help but tear up as I worked thinking about all this, but I think the tears were also for myself. We get emotional thinking about legacies and how our children and grandchildren will remember us, don’t we? The poet John Doone alluded to this in his well known passage (originally written as prose, not poetry), “No Man is an Island” written in 1624:

“No man is an island, entire of itself, each is a piece of the continent, A part of the main. … Each man’s death diminishes me, For I am involved in mankind. Therefore, send not to know for whom the bell tolls, it tolls for thee.”

Canning is a wonderful “community” or family activity in terms of having at least one other helper, each of us a “piece of the continent” making faster work of the washing and chopping and snapping beans and cutting corn off the cob and peeling and what not. I admire those who organize getting bushels of peaches or apples and together producing pints and quarts of canned produce but our family efforts are mostly confined to the vegetables we raise and can or freeze.   


There is no more satisfying sound for a home gardener than the ping of a sealed jar after a long day’s work—which often runs far into the night (or early morning). I remember my mother getting up in the night to remove a boiler load of green beans (16 cans) that had boiled on the stove for three hours. Now that was hard work. I use a pressure canner which reduces the boiling time to a mere 25 minutes, but still, if you work away from home and have canning to do at night when you come home, you end up dealing with things at 11 p.m. or later. I wrote about the “ping” in my book, Whatever Happened to Dinner in a chapter on canning beans called “Waiting for the Ping,” excerpted briefly here (Herald Press, 2010, p. ):

[Children] even learn to appreciate the peculiar smell of green beans being canned by a home canner in the kitchen. To me the smell is evocative of home and family: not a pleasant smell like a fragrance, but simply unique.

I discovered how evocative it is for me the year after we moved to a new home.  We didn’t plant a garden or do any canning the year we moved so it was a year later when I processed my first canner load of green beans in the new house. As the jars sat cooling on the counter, I waited for them to “ping” so I could finally crawl exhausted into bed. (The cans make a sound of “ping” as the lids seal, which happens as the cans cool.)

That distinctive smell came wafting back to our bedroom. I thought, “Now this really seems like home.” That was a good feeling. One of my daughters also confessed to liking the weird smell of freshly canned beans—I think for the same reason. It evokes harvest season, home, hearth, love, relationships.

So I guess I was teary for all of the reasons above.


Doreen in the garden, (not this year). For fun, enlarge this picture (click click)
to see the standoff going on with the 3 animals in the photo.

When Doreen pruned our amok tomato vines this year we ended up with about a gallon of discarded green tomatoes. Here is a link to a recipe I should have tried with them (we ended up contributing them to our compost pile). From a guest column by Jodi Nisly Hertzler where she talks about end of summer gardening: Curried Green Tomatoes.

I also love swapping and sharing vegetables and recipes.


Here’s a can of pickles my friend Barbra brought me “like her mother used to make” in exchange for a load of cucumbers from my garden.

Do you like the weird smell of green beans as they are canned? Does preserving food evoke any strong family memories for you (good or bad)? Do you have any favorite canning recipes to share?


A variation of the green tomatoes recipe is also included in the Whatever Happened to Dinner book, on sale until Aug. 18 at the “Summer Harvest Sale” (30% off  (along with a bunch of other recipe books) including the two highlighted below at

  • Simply in Season has oodles of recipes collected by Mary Beth Lind and Cathleen Hockman Wert on using food purchased or grown locally and in season.

For hardcore community canning, off grid no less, check here!

For a nostalgic look at “canning with daughters” check here.

  1. Robert Martin permalink

    Last night, we brought in 20 lbs of green beans, 17 lbs of Roma tomatoes, 8 lbs of red beets, and a few early carrots. My wife’s “chore” today is going to involve some of that “waiting for the ping” along with freezing the beans.

    And, for us, it is the making of applesauce that brings back all those memories. My parents had a few apple trees on their property and, every year, when the apples came in, we’d have a “party” and Grandma’s and Grandpa’s where we would spend all day making wonderfully sweet applesauce. To this day, making and canning applesauce is a favorite event in our home.

  2. We only made applesauce a few times but the children LOVED it, I agree, it is a wonderful family event. Kudos to those with this tradition and it is worth all the dirty dishes and mess, huh. Best wishes to your wife today!

  3. I love this post and appreciate all the effort to do the work of canning, take photos of the process, and then write about it. I remember doing this for my blog post on preparing pig stomach, a pretty sticky mess–ha! You are so fortunate to have your daughter working alongside. But of course you know that1

  4. Yeah, she was only home 3 weeks but it was great to have her that long, for sure!

  5. I remember your garden. I came over with a Murch child to feed the pets and pick–what?–the cucumbers? Not sure what. I think I weeded.

    • Hi, oh I didn’t know you got in on the gardening/pet care act! Thanks. I’ve been following mamas minutia with interest and I’m sure you love every post. Yes, the cucumbers were coming on strong that summer. We didn’t have quite as many this summer. Thanks for the comment.

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