Hotter Than Tripe

Hotter Than Tripe

By C.J. Clark

"It's hotter than tripe!"

That was mama's favorite expression during the dog-days of summer when she was relegated to the small aqua kitchen to can tomatoes.

As boiling pots of water bubbled for skinning the tomatoes, the blue enamelware canner boiled right along with it. Mama only knew one method of canning--the hotOld Time Canning water bath. She claimed it was the only way to get "a good seal".

Canning day began early with Daddy bringing in bushel baskets of plump, ripe, red tomatoes filling the air with their wonderful aroma. Taking a half dozen or so of the ruby fruits, mama would plop them carefully in the scalding water. Like magic, the skins would burst open and shrivel away from the fruit. Taking a slotted spoon she would transfer the steaming fruit to a pan of cold water in the sink. There she would peel away the skins, sometimes letting me help her if I didn't squeeze them too hard.

While another batch was being scalded, she would dump the cooled, skinned ones in yet another pan to chop them up. Scalding, peeling, chopping, scalding, peeling, chopping--just watching mama made me think she needed about four more hands.

When she had a sufficient quantity of cooled tomatoes, she would transfer them to a big pot on the stove. Once the tomatoes boiled, she claimed, "you have to work fast".

It was my job to use wire tongs and dip and rinse the previously washed canning jars and lids in scalding water, then pass them to mama. She would dip a ladle in the boiling tomatoes, fill the jar almost to the rim,throw in a teaspoon of salt, give it a quick stir,mount the lid and screw on the jar ring, wipe the hot jar and place it in the canner.

All of this had to be done production line style with no dilly-dallying. Too long in the canner and the tomatoes would be mush.

Several jars would cook submerged for exactly 20 minutes. Out they came, steamy, with the contents boiling like a witch's cauldron. These were set on kitchen towels where no drafts would hit them. (Drafts were anathema to canning!)

There I'd sit waiting for the pop-pop-pop of a "good seal" while mama had just enough time for a swipe of a sweaty forehead or running burning hands under cold water before the next batch came out of the canner.

Years have come and gone and methods of canning have changed somewhat, but even today as I can tomatoes, I remember mama's rules--a hot water bath for a good seal, you have to work fast, and no drafts. But most of all, it seems like her words are always true--"It is hotter than tripe!"

About the Author:

C.J. Clark is a freelance writer, wife and caregiver living in Arkansas. She is also foster mother to l3 cats with more on the way! Email C.J. at


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