by David Cecelski
I picked up 10 quarts of Linda Simmons’s canned tomatoes yesterday when I passed through Newport, a little town in Carteret County. A delightful woman who loves baking and canning, Linda makes the finest home-canned tomatoes on God’s green Earth as far as I am concerned. She sells them out of her home on Hibbs Road and at the Willis farm’s produce stand on old US 70. I’ve been buying them for years.
Her recipe is simple—only tomatoes and salt—but she has a devotion to taking her time and doing things the old-fashioned way that makes her canned tomatoes something special.
Linda gets her tomatoes from two of the oldest farms in Carteret County, the Willis farm in Newport and Joe Merrell’s farm on NC 101. When she gets the tomatoes home, she pours boiling water over them, lets them sit a minute or two, and peels and cores them. Then she cooks them down at least for 3 or 4 hours, until all the water is cooked out and they’re just the essence of tomato.
While waiting for the tomatoes to finish cooking, Linda prepares her jars, lids, and rings in a canner or hot water bath. She packs the tomatoes in the hot jars and adds roughly a tablespoon of pickling salt per quart jar. Finally, she wipes each jar’s mouth with a clean cloth or paper towel, seals them with sterile lids and rings, and hot bathes them in a canner for at least 15 minutes, finishing by letting them cool on a rack.
As the days grow shorter and the nights colder, I find that home-canned tomatoes like Linda’s really mean a lot. When I put them into soups, spaghetti sauce, or chili, I find them a revelation, a quintessential taste of summer just when I’m least expecting it and appreciate it most.
You can find Linda Simmons’s canned tomatoes—and her tomato pies,jams, preserves, cooked collards, fresh frozen vegetables, and dessert cakes and pies—at the Willis farm’s produce stand, just up the road from the Newport Middle School on old US 70 in Newport. You can also arrange to buy them by contacting her home business, “Daddy’s Favorite Cake and More Goodies,” at (252) 622-1838 or by email at firstname.lastname@example.org. “Daddy’s Favorite Cake and More Goodies” is also on Facebook.