Can I?

It’s tomato season in Jos – which means tomatoes are abundant and cheap.  Each year around this time, my friend cans tomatoes and spaghetti sauce so that she has them to use during the rainy season, when a small, pitiful pile of tomatoes costs about 400 naira ($2.50).  This year I got to join her and learn about canning, a huge blessing for when we want a quick meal.  (The transition to a setting where I can’t grab food on the go has been a bit of an adjustment, and with the new 6 pm curfew, our options are even more limited since the street food we would sometimes get for a quick meal is now gone as well.)

So last Tuesday was shopping day.  My friend sent Rekiya, the woman who works in her home, to town at 11:00 am.  She came home at 3:00 pm with two big basins of hand-selected tomatoes ($40 worth), 20 large onions, and 20 heads of garlic, then washed the tomatoes and peeled and quartered the onions. Tuesday evening my friend peeled garlic for two hours in preparation for making the sauce.  (Alas, with the curfew I was exempt from this tedious – uh, I mean, exciting, hands-on – part of the process!)

At 8:00 am the next day the buckets of tomatoes were loaded into the car and taken to the grinder down the street.  After everything went through the grinder twice (This cuts the cooking time in half.), the buckets of soupy tomato sauce were loaded into the car while Rekiya bargained with the grinder lady to give a good price for her work. The lady asked for $6.50, and Rekiya ended up paying $5.

The grinder lady rinsing out her grinding machine and all her basins in preparation for grinding.

Bumpy roads + gallons of ground tomato sauce = very careful driving!

Back at my friend’s house, Rekiya laid the firewood and started the fire in the front yard. She put a big cast iron cooking pot on top of a 3-legged stand over the fire.  Into the pot went tomato paste, salt, pepper, sugar, and spices, which cooked almost to a boil for about four hours. 

Even when I've cooked for a crowd, I've never made THIS much sauce before!

When it got to the right consistency, the sauce was transferred to a stock pot and taken into the kitchen for the canning part of the process.  To ensure that bacteria was not canned along with the sauce, each jar was filled with water and boiled, the lids and rings were boiled, and the sauce was brought to another boil.  We repeated this for each batch of jars.  Whew!  I have a new respect for Ragu.  

Pouring the sauce into the jars

Finally we got to the canning part and filled each jar with the boiling spaghetti sauce, then wiped the rims, another step in the War Against Bacteria.  The jars were then placed in the canner (which looked at first to me like an intimidating rocket ship with all its gadgets and controls.  It still looks rather rocket ship-ish to me, but at least it seems conquerable now.) and cooked under pressure for 10 minutes.  Then we waited for the pressure to go down, opened the canner, and lifted the jars out with tongs. As they cool, the lids make little popping noises, indicating that the jar has sealed.  I never thought a “POP” sound would be so satisfying.  I felt so Amish! 

The jars all ready to go....

...and sealed in the Rocket Ship Pressure Canner.

 My friend’s canner holds 10 pint jars or 7 quart jars, which meant that we managed to process several batches together, but since there is a 6 pm curfew, both Rekiya and I had to abandon poor Sonia to get home in time.  She took a brief time out only to feed her kids dinner (What else?  Spaghetti!), then she continued canning until 11:00 pm. 

Finished "cooking...."

...and cooling.

Some tomatoes we canned as well. Aren't they pretty??

The final count came to 25 pints and 27 quarts.  Cost per pint for labor and supplies?  150 naira (about $1).  Convenience of being able to open a jar and dump some spaghetti sauce into a pot?  Priceless.


7 thoughts on “Can I?

  1. That brings back memories of Khartoum, which has a similar tomato season. It was a family project for us, which means that no matter how hard I tried, Lynda was not going to let me get out of doing my share of the peeling and grinding. But the rewards a few months later were well worth it.

  2. Ha ha…. Yeah, there is something satisfying about being able to reap the benefits of your labor, isn’t there?

    Or maybe the satisfying part is when the canning is over. I don’t know that I’d continue canning spaghetti sauce in the States when I can buy it for so cheaply, but it’s an experience I’m glad I had.

    And like you said, I’ll be mighty glad come some overworked weeknight when I can open up a jar and reap the rewards. 🙂

  3. Hi Chrissy,
    I used to can tomatoes when I lived in PA and had a big vegatable garden. They are priceless in the dead of winter when you can’t get a decent tasting tomato anywhere. We used to put them in a salad (alng with the juice) and serve it in bowls along with a spoon to eat it. Yummy! Nice to see the pictures of you having FUN. (But the rewards are so worth it.

  4. You made me think of the great canned goods we saw when we visited Amish country last Feb. You are inspiring….I am so proud of you. I just may try it myself……would be wonderful if we grew our own tomatoes. Now that is an idea! Love you guys and miss you.

  5. Wow, Honi-Buni! I’m impressed with your work! Makes me think about the tomatoes that I grew when we first moved here. We had SO many of them; we used to bring the cherry tomatoes to soccer games just to get rid of them. 😉 Love y’all; miss you, too.

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