The madness of August has officially started. I’m talking about tomato canning season. Water must be boiled constantly. Tomatoes must be washed, blanched and sliced. Jars must be filled, sealed and steamed. And that’s assuming the quest for tomatoes has been successful.

In the past, the family made trips to the farms near the coast. We would fill up six bushels or so with tomatoes, rain or shine. You end up sweaty, dirty, and smelling of pesticide. Our reward would be a pit stop on the way home at a local restaurant that sells some awfully fine fried chicken.

You get home, and the time clock starts ticking. The tomatoes begin to press down on one another and lose their firmness. Then they start to rot. So you have to do a certain amount of jars every day to stay ahead of the curve, and by the end it’s a brutal, haggard rush to get those final tomatoes in.

The folks refuse to use air conditioning, so the kitchen gets really hot. You burn yourself handling the tomatoes to remove their skins. Your clothes acquire a red paste spatter. The entire kitchen is devoted to the process of canning, so food has to be drawn from leftovers, kept really basic, or brought in.

Why is this madness endured every year? At the end, you have about 120 jars of tomatoes that can be used for just about anything – salsa, spaghetti sauce, and chili. It’s a ray of sunshine you can call upon during the winter to get you by on that tough day. Plus, they make fantastic gifts!

It’s taken the family about 15 years to get the formula down right. The process has been honed down to every tool and the time it takes at each station. The last two years, the trip to the farm has been abandoned for a new development.

I don’t quite remember farmer’s markets being this prevalent in the past, maybe we were just too busy to notice. But we’ve been getting our bushels in installments from the markets, and that makes all the difference. The time clock of rotting tomatoes is removed, allowing us to rest between bouts.

The madness has lessened, but the benefits remain. An accident of nature, or a slight expansion in brain power? I know not.