Looking inquisitively I asked “What is this?!” “It’s a hot pepper so you might not want to touch it… it’ll make your mouth burn.” My mother said. Saying this to a six year old is like saying oh heck you’re gonna love it, why not just grab a fork and help yourself!! So naturally I waited until my mother turned her back and began stirring the sauce…looking like a red bell pepper I took a nice sized piece and got maybe three chews in before my face felt like it burst into flames. Running through the living room past my bewildered father I ran into the bathroom and dunked my face into the sink where my face and lips remained for the better part of the next hour. This was my intro to canning and sauceapalooza.
I had always remembered my mother canning but this was the first year where I got to see it up close and until the pepper incident, very personal. Peeling tomatoes, seeding, crushing them right through to the processing when the windows were all flung opened and made our house look like a steam factory, but it prevented the kitchen ceiling from raining down drops of condensed steam and turning the floor into a slip and slide. My mom pretty much canned or froze damned near everything from our garden and from shared gardens of several aunts. Enough to fill a standalone freezer from top to bottom and a garage type metal 5 tiered rack until I was nearly a junior in high school.
Suffice it to say mom has canned or frozen quite a few things since she was a little girl at my grandmother’s side, using the old fashioned canning jars with rubber seals. From applesauce to summer squash and everything in between… but nothing was ever as much fun as spaghetti sauce, or smelled any better. By the time I actually started helping with the knife work of mincing garlic, dicing the onion, carrot, green peppers and learning how to separate the skins plus seed and dice tomatoes I was maybe eleven or twelve.
The time seemed to fly by and at the end a sense of disappointment prevailed until we got to eat the fruit of that year’s labor. There was no comparison between spaghetti sauce to when I was helping to pick, sort and then freeze blueberries, or as I like to call it…eternal damnation. The blueberries were easy but offered no magic as a reward for preparation… only stained hands and faces.
Over the year’s mom’s canning slowed, first the green beans stopped then the pickles until my father passed. It has only been spaghetti sauce for the last four years. I always joked with mom and called it sauceapalooza, even going so far as to filming it the year before my father died… sort of an “every boring thing you ever wanted to see about canning, and then some!”
It’s almost unwatchable as the audio is bad except for the parts when my father would come into the kitchen and being half deaf from being a tool and die maker/machinist his whole life and asking my mother the odd this or that question… then a smile and wave he’d give to the camera and out of the shot he’d go. Typical ham that he was makes the whole thing worth playing every now and again.
“So I guess that’s it.” Mom says as the final canners are wrapped and stored. I said “yeah… done for another year.” She gave me a strange look and said “no I mean that’s probably the last time I’ll be canning.” “You know I was talking about selling the house and if that happens then those canners are yours.” I guess she had told me she wanted to sell. I thought of it every now and then, but quickly set it aside.
My parents bought the house in seventy three and it’s the only home I ever knew short of a few oddball memories of falling down stairs when I was three in Worcester, or waving down the milkman for a ten cent pint of chocolate milk in Hinsdale when I was four. I walked around the yard and thought of how the neighbors that used to stop and comment about how good the sauce smelled have all gone or have passed away. I want to be selfish and come up with reasons for her to not sell, but I know in my heart that it’s time.
Sure I can invite her to my home to do spaghetti sauce, but it’s really not the same. Until now it’s been the familiar rhythms of seasons, of enjoying each other’s company…of home. But I guess that’s what life is all about isn’t it, change. I can tell you this, if those canners are mine come next year I’ll be breaking them out more often than just for saucezpalooza.
I see jellypalooza and picklepalooza not to mention a few others besides. Because even if I can’t have the feeling of “that” home anymore at least I’ll be able to share a few days doing something I love and enjoy. Plus I’ll be doing it with the person that not only taught me how, but made it a home for all those wonderful years. Whatta ya say mom…pickled ramps too soon for our first canning event?!