© Copyright 2021 by Nancy McAtavey
Husband Jim and Son Todd work on the squeezo.
Every aspect of our daily lives changed with the Covid-19 pandemic: how we ate, where we shopped, what we did with our families and our homes while we were hunkered down. For many, the backyard garden became a chance to get outside, get dirty and put fresh produce on the table. And for these two veteran gardeners, there was yet another challenge. Finding a little-known kitchen gadget that no one had ever hear of and suddenly was, you got it, ON BACK ORDER!
Jim fed the tomatoes into the hopper with the wooden plunger and cranked the handle. Tomato puree poured down the drain tray and into the big yellow bowl; the seeds and skin dropped into the compost container. “Well, that’s it,” he said. “That’s the last of the 2020 tomatoes.”
“You mean last year’s bocce balls,” I replied, remembering how we froze the last of the tomatoes whole. Through the long winter and into the spring, the bright red orbs greeted me each time I opened the hallway freezer. Reminded me of the last days of summer when the ripened tomatoes fell off the vines, landing among the parsley, basil and thyme plants.
“How long have we been doing this? Clamping this Squeezo to the kitchen table,” he asked. “Seems like we have pictures of Todd standing on a stool and turning the crank. And do you remember why we even bought this gadget?”
“Yes...vaguely. I was diagnosed with diverticulitis . No seeds in my diet. How could I make spaghetti sauce without any seeds? A woman at Agway put me onto the Squeezo when I went to buy canning jars. Hold on a minute.”
I scanned the family room shelves and returned to the kitchen with a bulging photo album. “Here’s the picture. How long ago was this?”
“Well, the kitchen cabinets were white. And Todd’s standing on a step stool. He was the scrawniest little guy,” said Jim.
“And isn’t that your jogger’s body, the one that ran the Market Square Day 10K Road
Race? And look at that dark hair and mustache.”
“Had to be mid-eighties,” Jim chuckled. “A long time ago, when the kids were home and we were both working.”
“But we still managed to have a garden every year since we’ve been married. Fifty-one years next week,” I added.
Jim rubbed his index finger across his gray mustache, a sure sign that he’s thinking. “Well, I think you’re right. Except for that one year we lived in Albany, there’s always been tomatoes and peppers and cukes in the summer.”
I carried the bowl to the counter and measured out the puree. “Eighteen cups,” I said. “Enough for five times my recipe. Did you buy enough paste and garlic?”
“Yep, I read through your recipe before I went to the store. We’ve got all the spices and fresh herbs. Plenty of red wine, too.”
I chopped the garlic and the scallions and added them to the olive oil in the big pot. A gentle sizzle. And then I started adding the puree alternately with the paste. That was it for today; I turned the burner to simmer. Tomorrow the wine and the herbs would finish off the sauce. It would be done when the wooden spoon stood up straight in the pot.
Jim disassembled the Squeezo and I cleaned up. Everything was easy to wash, except for the cone shaped sieve that the tomatoes passed through. I used the bottle brush, a nail brush, a smaller brush. I still couldn’t get rid of all the embedded tomato that filled the small holes. Finally, I filled a large bowl with hot water, added two denture tablets and submerged the sieve. The Efferdent solution gently bubbled specks of tomato to the top of the bowl. I let it sit awhile and then scrubbed again. The water rinsed clear but still the strainer looked discolored. I put on my glasses. Yep, it was a color alright: the orange- brown color of rust!
“We can’t use this again,” I told my husband.
He made a quick check on Amazon Prime and found the replacement part. “It’s almost as much for the replacement as it is to but a whole new machine,” he said.
“Well, let’s get a new one. We’ve gotten our money’s worth from this one.”
Later that night, our son called from California. “What’s up with the Squeezo? I saw your order on Amazon. You’ve ordered a new one?”
“Yep, that old one rusted. We’ve had it forever.”
“But I just saw the Amazon Prime notification. It’s not the real Squeezo. It’s made of plastic. What’s up with that? Is the old man getting cheap on you?”
I hung up the phone and after a very brief discussion, Jim cancelled the plastic knock-off and ordered the original model. “What’s the ETA? How soon will it get here?”
“ It’s on back order. First toilet paper, antiseptic wipes and flour. Now a Squeezo. Seems like everyone is growing tomatoes and making their own sauce. But we’re all set.”
“How long is it back-ordered?”
“What? Five weeks? Are you kidding me? I have twenty- nine tomato plants ripening out there in the garden.” I could hear the pitch of my voice begin to rise. “ I do not have time for plan B- for blanching, skinning, seeding and chopping. We’ll just have to use the old machine. I’ll find something at the store to remove rust. Just order a new part!”
“Well,” Jim began, “it seems we have a little situation.”
I’ve learned that it’s never a good thing when Jim tells me we have a little situation. “What situation, exactly?”
“Well, we don’t have the Squeezo anymore.”
“What do you mean by anymore?”
“Ah, I took the box to the dumpster.”
“Well, you said you couldn’t use it. I didn’t want to put an orange recycling sticker on it so I took it to the office dumpster on my way to the store. Threw it up and over! All gone.”
“This...is... not... funny. When is the dumpster emptied?”
He looked at the calendar. “Well, tomorrow. Tuesday.”
I folded my arms. “You need to take a ride.”
“For what? No, Nancy. You want me to go get it out of the dumpster? You want me to go Dumpster Diving?”
“Yes. I want that machine back. And just order the replacement part.”
An hour later, the box was back in the garage, Jim was showered and the part ordered.
“How long?” I asked.
A silent Hmmm......
The next morning the pot was back on the burner. I added the red wine . An hour later, I inserted the wooden spoon. It stood up straight but then slowly listed to the side of the pot. Not yet. A few good stirs later, I once again rested the spoon in the middle of the sauce. This time it stood up straight. I chopped the fresh herbs and added the spices. A bit more oregano. Another pinch of cinnamon.
“Come check this,” I called to Jim.
He dunked his spoon into the sauce. “It’s done,” he said. “Damn, that’s good.”
Jim ladled the cooled sauce into storage containers and stacked them in the freezer. Square red blocks now replaced the bocce balls of winter.
“So how much from this batch?” I asked.
“A dozen quarts. Think that’s enough for the two of us?”
And so ended the 2020 crop. Next up, the 2021 tomatoes. The hot late summer weather promises another bumper year: Early Girls and Big Boys for sandwiches and slicing, Sweet 100’s for the salad bowl, Romas and San Marzanos for sauce.
Which reminded me. “Where’s that Squeezo part, Jim? Are
you tracking it?”