Now, I have to digress for a couple of paragraphs to say that a couple of years ago we had to opportunity to tour a farm where tomatoes were being picked. Not only that, but the farmer took us to the canning operation. Turns out it's the smallest one still in operation in the US. Nothing like the Red Gold operation where you practically have to be in a sterile suit to see the place. Nope, this is the way things used to be done. And, in this case, still are. So, let's start with a tour of the field and the canning operation.
This is the detritus that remains after the tomatoes have been harvested.
You'd better be dressed for the ride because you're going to get dirty. VERY dirty.
For those of you who think the shirt has a message - it does. It says Super Bowl Champions. We love our Colts :-)
This is the operation that picks and sorts. Talk about cool machinery! It's hauled by the tractor.
The tomatoes wind up in these huge trailers - full to the brim and the bottom ones don't get squashed. That's why Roma's are the tomato of choice for canning here in Indiana.
Look at that gorgeous trailer full of tomatoes!
Now, let's see how it's done. First the plants are pulled up and ride up this sorter. The leaves fall through and the tomatoes keep going. I'm not quite sure how in the heck it works but it's a lot of fun to watch.
Once the tomatoes have been separated, they're put through a sorter that's color coded and VERY expensive. Five figures as I recall - and we're not talking $10,000! You can set the sorter based on the amount of mud etc. These tomatoes were pretty clean so it whacked out the yellows and browns. They wound up back on the field. Which, by the way, will be used for corn or soybeans the next year. The sorter works kind of like the levers on a game.
Once the tomatoes have gone through the color sorter they're hand sorted. This is where we rode. That haze in the photo is dust...
Then, the tomatoes are put into the trailer. Now, can you imagine doing that with one of the wonderful ripe tomatoes you bought at your farmer's market last week? I didn't think so.
Once the tomatoes arrive at the canning facility, they're unloaded and put through a lye bath. That's right, I said a lye bath. It makes the skins loose so they'll come off in the next step.
And, away they go. This conveyor belt essentially vibrates the skins off.
Inside the factory, they're hand sorted once again.
Then, they go up another conveyor belt toward the actual canning line.
When we were there, they were doing diced tomatoes. So there was an interim step where the tomatoes were diced before they were put into the cans.
Once the tomatoes are diced and put into the cans, the lids are put on. Then, they're taken up a magnetized system to the hot water bath.
Speaking of which, that's a LOT of hot water.
Once the cans have spent the appropriate amount of time in the hot water bath, they go up this conveyor belt to the cold water bath.
Connie's checking out the cold water bath. That's a LOT of cans of tomatoes.
Back inside the factory to a machine that's wicked cool. It sorts the cans to get them all right side up. Gotta put the labels on correctly, you know.
Here's the machine. I've got a client who builds sorter bins for all kinds of uses so I found this particularly interesting after seeing all of Brian's handiwork!
Once the cans are sorted, they're put on a pallet until time to label them. In the case of this factory, it's for private label. Now, see all the cans at the top of the photo? Those are on a humongeous magnet. That's how they pick them up and move them. Amazing!
Connie and pallets of tomatoes.
Connie and our hosts. It was one of those fantastic experiences! We've done a lot of fun things in our time together but we both agree this has to be one of the top. I mean, how many people actually get to do this???
So, on our way back to Indianapolis, we stopped to see this covered bridge. Tom and Barb had told us it was really cool and wasn't too far out of the way. We were dirty and tired and almost didn't stop. But, for some reason, we did. And were we ever glad. Not only was the bridge amazing, but a couple of months later, a tornado took it out. They've raised the money to recreate it and have it partially finished. But we were lucky enough to see the before...
Now, you're probably wondering if I'm EVER going to get to a recipe here. Yes, I am. Thanks to Barb and Tom for the fabulous tomatoes. And Maria and Bill for the fabulous corn. And, you can't forget Todd English and The Olives Table for the fabulous recipe!
Fresh Tomato and Corn Salad
3 large tomatoes, diced
3 T chopped fresh basil leaves
1 T chopped fresh cilantro
1 small red onion, halved and thinly sliced
1/4 c balsamic vinegar
2 T olive oil
3 cloves garlic, finely minced
2 anchovy fillets, finely minced
4 c fresh corn kernels
1 T dijon mustard
Cut the corn off the cobs. I cut the recipe in half and had about one cup of corn per cob. Into a large bowl, cut the tomatoes. You want them in bite-sized pieces.
Add the basil, cilantro and balsamic vinegar and set aside.
Into a medium skillet, pour the olive oil. Add the anchovies and garlic and stir until the anchovies have melted into the olive oil.
Add the mustard and stir it into the olive oil.
Add the corn and cook for two minutes.
Add the onions to the tomatoes
Combine the corn and tomatoes and serve.