I've never done something like this before -- gone to a canning party. But I was invited to one on Saturday with four or five other families, and all I can say is, WOW. It was so much fun!
And in case you are inspired and want to host a totally-wow multi-family canning party yourself, here's how the event went down. My hosts had pre-purchased about a gazillion tomatoes, based on our pre-orders (how many quarts of diced tomatoes and/or spaghetti sauce would we want?).
Here are a few (just a few) of the empty tomato boxes, sitting inside in the living room.
But we didn't spend much time indoors. Outside, that was where the action happened. My hosts owned a few propane burners and rented a few more. They pulled out all their canning supplies, as well as inviting their guests to bring their own pots. We all brought our own canning jars or bags for freezing.
The first tomato station was the de-stemming station (or, as I explained it to a guy who joined me at the table, the "tomato circumcision" table). We tossed the tomatoes into this large metal bin.
The circumcised tomatoes destined for dicing went briefly into a pot of boiling water, and then into these giant buckets of ice water, where an enthusiastic crowd of helpers peeled the tomatoes by simply pulling off the skin.
This was a job that people of all ages could do!
Actually, people of all ages flitted between many of the jobs. Here's two grown-ups at the dicing table, but a little bit later in the day I worked there with a pair of sixth graders who earnestly told me about their favorite cooking shows. (Hint: Junior MasterChef rocks it).
The tomatoes destined for sauce went into this machine--the funnel leads to an electric sauce-r. Here the two MasterChefs on the left are feeding tomato pieces into the funnel, and then out comes sauce, collected in the plastic tub near the MasterChef on the right.
Onions, wine, other spices I'm not certain of made their way in and out of this blender and got added to the tomatoes sauced by the MasterChefs . . .
. . . which my host stirred up into giant pots of spaghetti sauce.
He had a bunch of help from my sons, among others. Dang, but that's one huge wooden stirring spoon, isn't it?
Once the sauce was seriously underway, we started the conveyer belt: our jars went into the oven to heat up, came back out to get filled with sauce, and then went into pots to get boiled.
By the time serious boiling was underway, the kids melted off into the nearby fields and into the toy-filled basement. The grown-up gossiped and compared life stories; I had an intense conversation with another professor about the active voice. Lunch brought back a brief reappearance of the kids . . .
. . . who all found that it's a joy to be able to stand on the shoulders of canning giants.
I came away with a few new friends myself, not to mention 3 dozen jars of spaghetti sauce for a dollar a quart.