The high cost of home canning

Su Lum

The tomatoes are really good this year at the Farmer’s Market, so I bought a box of them, thinking that it would yield 14 quarts (my cooker holds seven), but I underestimated. It takes about five tomatoes per quart, the box held fifty tomatoes or ten quarts, so back to the market for twenty more tomatoes – total cost about $40 or roughly $3/quart, but well worth that.Tomatoes are easy to can. You just drop them in boiling water, peel them, cut them in half, push them down into sterilized quart jars, add salt and boil them, seven quarts at a time, for an hour.I had been told – I knew – that garbage disposals are not fond of skins. Throw in a large amount of potato, chili or tomato skins and you are just asking for trouble. I knew that. But I thought that if I tossed in just a few skins at a time, the garbage disposal could handle it, and so it seemed to be until hours later when my bathroom sink urped up tomato juice.Ut oh! But the next day the situation seemed to have resolved itself. I ran the dishwasher: no problem. Then I ran the washing machine and all hell broke loose. Half of my kitchen was flooded and the bathroom was 2 inches deep. In the cabinet under the bathroom sink, 12 newly-purchased rolls of Scotts toilet paper were a complete sog, but served the purpose of absorbing almost all of the flood there, though the adjoining cosmetic drawer was full of water.I try to be philosophical about such disasters. Threw all of my towels onto the flooded areas, pulled out the drawer (I’d been meaning to clean out that drawer for the past five or 10 years) and, next morning, called Roto-Rooter.Tim, the Roto-Rooter guy, arrived at the appointed time, looking spiffy in his pressed uniform and putting on blue shoe-covers to protect my puppy-peed floors.With an old mining shack like mine, a scraper if there ever was one, digging into the plumbing is like an old guy going to the dentist and as one tooth gets fixed the peripheral teeth get whacked and next thing he knows he’s got root canals waiting on both sides.I recently bought a dishwasher for $150 and when the mayhem was over it cost $350 to install, so I was not optimistic about this plumbing clog. After leaving instructions not to leave the gate open lest the puppies escape, I went back to work and returned to find that Tim had, indeed, run into trouble.A couple of decades’ accumulation of cleaning supplies had been exhumed from the cabinet under the kitchen sink (I’ve been meaning to clean that out), and my stash of Cuisinarts, vacuum cleaners, toaster, Seal-a-Meal machine et al (I’d been meaning to clean that out) had been pulled out of a closet so Tim could get into my crawl space from hell, a crawl space that has made grown men weep and arachnophobics scream, an inferno of spiders so horrific that I myself would never dream of lifting the secret panel in the floor that accesses their den.Tim did not have to enter this hellhole once, but time and again, finally having to dismantle his roto-rootering machine to get it down through the pipes, and then, when the final test of his success was made – it failed. “It’s OK to swear,” I said, as he mopped his brow. And then, miraculously, there was a WHOOSH of the drain opening and Tim sagged against the washing machine in relief. Done! $317, but I have no complaint about that – it was well-earned. But an expensive batch of canned tomatoes, which I calculate having cost $26 per quart which is high, even for Aspen.Su Lum is a longtime local who guesses she won’t be putting any more peels into the garbage disposal, but considers it a wimpy piece of equipment. Her column appears every Wednesday in The Aspen Times.