Ashley Strickland is an associate producer with CNN.com. She likes twisting her own soft pretzels, perfecting pineapple upside down cake, tackling English toffee, sharing people-pleasin' pizza dip, sunflower cheesecakes and green soup and cajoling recipes from athletes.
Each year, I can tell by the languor of the tomato vines in our backyard that it’s time. They recline like some exhausted 1940s Hollywood starlet, even though we’ve already relieved them of their burden.
The kitchen countertops become laden with fiery red, homegrown tomatoes. Garlic, onions and bell peppers appear in the kitchen in bulk, while fresh herbs disappear from the garden and local grocery store and take up pungent residence in the refrigerator.
Add a quartet of the largest stock pots to the stovetop, and the ritual has begun. It’s time to capture the last sunset of summer in a jar.
Daddy throws himself into tending the garden, watering in the early mornings and late evenings when the sun paints our backyard.
After he delivers the first ripe tomatoes to the kitchen, we can’t pick them fast enough. A silver pail remains close at hand in the garage to collect our garden’s bounty on a daily basis. There’s nothing I like more than picking them in the morning. My cat, Martha, likes to supervise by rolling in the dirt by the rosemary plant.
Summer waxes and wanes and before we know it, the vines are telling us it’s nearly September and they’ve done all they can. We collect the last of what they have to give, and set out to capture the taste and essence of summer before it disappears.
My mother begins the mammoth task of shopping for all of the supplementary ingredients, but it’s nothing compared to peeling pounds of garlic, chopping onions and peppers, mincing herbs and peeling tomatoes.
Before long, she’s got tomato sauce bubbling in each pot. If, by any chance, I’ve forgotten it’s tomato-sauce-making day, I encounter a knock-you-down-with-love aroma when I walk through the front door.
As always, dinner is a celebration of the sauce. Just like no summer is ever the same, this sauce tastes gloriously unique each time we make it.
Mason jars line the countertops now, where the tomatoes once piled up. They have to cool down and rest overnight before being frozen into enough sauce for pizza, pasta and other delights for an entire year, until the tomato vines enter their languor again.
Besides taking a jar out of the freezer and enjoying that time-capsule taste of summer all year long, what I love most is listening to the lids of the hot jars softly popping all night before they’re locked away. It’s a symphony, much like the last chorus of crickets in the backyard, that signals the end of a season.
Mom's Tomato Sauce