Lake Norman & Mooresville

Bountiful crop has her seeing red - everywhere

Tomatoes on the table, tomatoes on the floor, in boxes, bags and along the counter top - even in the 'fridge and the fruit bowl.

Wait a minute. Yep, tomato sauce on the cellphone and in my hair.

We thought we would get a lot out of a tomato garden, since it's our favorite summer crop. We didn't think it would be a laugh-out-loud learning experience.

This spring, my boyfriend, Marcus, planted tomato plants in our small backyard garden in Steele Creek. We decided to start with about 50 plants this year, assuming some would die in late-spring frosts or heavy storms. We tilled under last year's garden, added a truck load of compost and fertilizer. After two or three hail storms, the plants withered. Thinking a majority of the plants would not make it, we purchased 50 more.

And wouldn't you know: Every one of the plants survived. We currently have close to 100 tomato plants thriving in our 12-foot-by-3-foot garden.

We never grasped how much that really meant.

Our first batch ripened when we were out of town. Marcus' mom, Karen, picked them for us while checking on the house. One afternoon, she called to ask what in the world she should do with all the tomatoes. She sent us a photo and we just laughed.

"Really?" we thought. "That many already?"

Since we were two days into our one-week vacation, Karen took the tomatoes home and gave them to friends and family. Later in the week, she sent another picture: four boxes of tomatoes.

After we returned, Marcus picked the garden. We took the first few boxes to co-workers, but still had plenty left over.

After the next wave, we were overwhelmed. We thought about donating or giving them away, but after discussing it we wondered why we weren't following our original plan.

Conclusion: canning.

We both have roots in western Lincoln County, where both our grandfathers were successful farmers. Canning wasn't a new concept to us.

Except neither of us had actually taken on the task.

We gathered basic supplies, mason jars and a large boiling pot, and began canning around 6 p.m., thinking it would take only a couple hours.

Around midnight, we finished blanching, peeling, seeding and cooking hundreds of tomatoes. In the end, we had seven quarts of sauce.

Cooked tomato was everywhere. On the floor, cabinets, all over the stove. Several white linen kitchen cloths were stained and strewn about.

It looked like a crime scene, and it felt like one, too.

We were exhausted, our hands were wrinkled and our nails stained orange.

I wondered what my grandmother would think. I'm sure she'd laugh. Though according to my mother, she didn't enjoy canning and refused to even teach my mom the process.

I think I can see why.

The tomatoes have been the highlight of our summer. An experience in planning a garden, preserving and patience. As a 27-year-old, I never thought I'd see the day I would be prepping, stewing and canning tomatoes.

It wasn't long ago when this was the way of life, and it wasn't easy.

But it is nice knowing where our food comes from and having the satisfaction of a finished product.

I won't call the whole thing off, but I will keep laughing.

And if you're wondering about the several hundred tomatoes on the way - I plan to keep canning, cooking and maybe freezing them. By summer's end, I should have it down to a science.

I just need a bigger pot.