Every so often, I get overwhelmed by the thought of raising kids in the 21st century. (It’s a few years off, sure, but I like to worry about the future sometimes.) Will they watch too much TV? Be too glued to their cellphones they get at age 6? Will they eat too much processed food?
I get nostalgic for an era I never even lived in, a time memorialized in “Leave It to Beaver” and other sitcoms where every problem was solved within the half-hour. Or I go even further back, to the 1800s. Sometimes I tell my mom I wish I were a Native American, before Christopher Columbus arrived. She, of course, looks at me like I am completely nuts, and sets off on a tangent about how women had no rights then, and only God knows why I’d want to endure that, etc.
Turns out, living in the 21st century has some perks. One of those is bottled spaghetti sauce.
I know this, because I spent five hours on Sunday making six cups of homemade spaghetti sauce. And after hour No. 2, it was not relaxing, or enjoyable, or how I’d ever choose to spend a free afternoon ever again.
The idea behind homemade spaghetti sauce was to take advantage of the bumper crop of tomatoes in season. Get out of my way, canned, peeled and seeded tomatoes. I’m going old-school.
The problem with that idea, it turns out, is that peeling and seeding 6 pounds of small Roma tomatoes takes more than an hour — quite a bit longer than opening a can, anyhow. First you wash the dirt from these lovely, fresh-from-the-vine beauties. Then you drop them into boiling water for a minute or two to loosen the skins. Then you skin them.
Then you cut off the rough part where the stem was attached. Then you seed them. Juice goes everywhere before you get the bright idea to do this over a bowl and not your cutting board. You shift your feet a bit, and then again… and then again. Finally, you have about 6 cups of seeded, peeled tomatoes. (Really, there are some seed stragglers. You are so very tired that you just don’t care.)
Then you get to chop 3 cups of onions and brown the ground beef. Toss in the spices, then the tomatoes. Then you wait, and stir, and wait… and stir. For three or four hours. My recipe said 55 minutes, but my sauce was still just tomatoes, ground beef, onion and chicken broth at that point. So yes, it took four times as long for it to thicken as much as I wanted.
In the end, as I broke down the cost, I paid about $3 per cup for the ingredients. Paying myself minimum wage for those five hours, that price per cup jumps to more than $9.
Do I feel good about keeping that money in my community? Yes. The tomatoes, onions, garlic and ground beef came from local farmers and a local butcher shop. Did the sauce taste pretty good in the end? Sure. It tastes like pasta sauce with ground beef.
But I’ll be the first to admit — I was overwhelmingly relieved that this wasn’t a required step each summer. I choose to preserve locally raised produce because I enjoy the taste of a sweet peach in January, or the crunch of corn with my Thanksgiving dinner. But if worst comes to worst and I don’t freeze enough strawberry jam, it’s available at the grocery. I won’t starve.
The 21st century has its perks.