giveaway: canning tomatoes, in a great apron

I LOVE A GOOD APRON, and never more than when batch after batch of tomatoes, herbs, and soup ingredients are moving from garden to kitchen to kettle to cupboard. When I saw the hand cut and sewn linen aprons made by my neighbor, Franca Fusco, at her shop called Boxwood Linen, and heard her say that she and her Italian-born mother were going to process some tomatoes, I thought: I need to share their wonderful enthusiasm—and one of Franca’s amazing aprons—with you. Get inspired by their technique, and maybe win the apron Franca and Aida rely on, too.

I got to know Franca this year when she opened an actual shop for Boxwood Linen in the next town, Hillsdale, New York, at the historic Hillsdale General Store, which was recently renovated. Franca grew up on a farm in Ontario, the daughter of parents born in Scanno, Abruzzo, so she is no stranger to the ways of the garden and kitchen.

“We had a cellar, a cantina, at the old farm in Canada,” Franca recalls, “where we’d store not just canned goods but cheese and prosciutto and sausage—but no more!”

Now Aida, Franca’s mother (above), visits her daughter’s Hudson Valley, New York-based home from Toronto each late-summer-into-fall, when the garden is offering up its best and there’s work to be done. Together, Franca and Aida continue the old traditions, but in a new location.
They do hot-packed tomatoes two ways: chunky, and also as a puree. Aida used to use a motorized machine to peel and de-seed the tomatoes, says Franca, “but now we do it the easy way.” The chunky ones are for pizza topping and soups and stews, the puree for making into tomato sauce quickly.

Like most longtime home canners, they break all the rules the USDA wants us to follow on food safety: adding basil to the jars; failing to add extra acid; and processing for a shorter time than recommended. And Franca and Aida even leave the skins on (USDA guidelines don’t).

For chunky sauce, Aida and Franca pre-sterilize their jars, and get the hot-water bath canner going, while they cut ripe paste tomatoes into small chunks.

They put a handful of basil at the bottom of each clean jar, and add a half-teaspoon of canning salt (non-iodized) per jar, too. USDA guidelines recommend adding ½ teaspoon citric acid per quart jar as well, or 2 tablespoons of bottled lemon juice. Some cooks add a little sugar to offset the lemon juice’s flavor.

The cut-up raw tomatoes are then packed firmly into each jar, leaving a half-inch of headspace, and sealed with a sterilized lid, then lowered into the water bath together once the last jar is packed. (“Mom still calls it the bagno marino,” says Franca.)

Franca and her mother prefer that the chunks of tomato flesh don’t separate from the skins while processing, but that means leaving the jars in the boiling water bath a much shorter time than the 85 minutes per quart jar that the USDA guidelines recommend for halved or whole skinned tomatoes canned in their own juices, with no water or tomato juice added. They also use larger jars, which would mean even longer processing.

Whatever size or timing, once the jars come out of the canner, let them cool gradually. “Mom puts the full jars back in their box, and puts a blanket over it so they cool slowly,” says Franca. Good news: I don’t think the USDA will dispute that last bit of Aida’s TLC.

“When it’s time to make pizza we saute a few cloves of minced garlic in olive oil, throw in the chunky tomatoes cook down a little and the sauce is ready to top the pizza,” says Franca. “A welcome thing on a cold Friday night in the middle of winter.”

The delicious aprons will get another workout then, too.

canning notes

  • about 22 pounds of fresh fruit makes 7 quart jars when no other liquid is added, the USDA says
  • current USDA safety guidelines recommend processing quarts of whole or halved raw-pack tomatoes in a boiling water bath for 85 minutes (more at altitudes above 1000 feet)
  • the USDA recommends acidifying the tomatoes when packing, by adding ½ teaspoon of citric acid per quart jar, or 2 tablespoons of bottled lemon juice
  • for safest canning, refer to the USDA guide to canning tomatoes and tomato products (a pdf)

tomatoes that franca grows

THE GIANT PASTE TOMATO Aida’s chopping in the photo is what Franca calls ‘Dick’s Italian,’ which she got from garden writer William Woys Weaver years ago. I’ve written to him for more information about it; this oldie is new to me. Her other standards: ‘Amish Paste’ and ‘San Marzano.’

about boxwood linen

FRANCA FOUNDED Boxwood Linen in 1999, doing craft and gift shows, and sells just her aprons online. Besides the aprons, she makes custom linens of all descriptions and in a wide range of colors and patterns: tablecloths, runners, napkins, placemats, dishtowels. This year, she opened the retail location near me, a boutique within the larger and equally tempting Hillsdale General Store, and I have to confess: I immediately bought an apron for my sister in the most wonderful green olive color, like Aida is wearing. All linens can be personalized with monograms or other hand embroidery. Visit the Boxwood Linen site, or better yet, go visit Franca at the shop (maybe the next time you come visit me during an open garden day!).

how to win the apron

TO ENTER TO WIN one of my friend Franca’s handmade bib-style, linen, two-pocket apron, simply comment below and tell me this:

Do you wear an apron when you cook, and what do you love about your favorite(s)?

My confession: I actually used to collect aprons, I like them so much. I think they remind me of cooking with my grandmother all those years ago (which made me feel very grown-up. My apron “must-have’s:” big pockets, and a bib top, not just something that covers from the waist down–though my former collection included some festive vintage cocktail aprons.

Feeling shy? Just say, “count me in” and I’ll include your entry, but if you have an apron passion—or an apron story—why not share it?

A winner will be chosen at random after entries close at midnight Tuesday, September 25, and notified by email. Good luck to all!

(all photos copyright Franca Fusco, Boxwood Linen; store photo from The Hillsdale General Store)


  1. Susan says:

    I wear an apron when preparing large meals and I’m going to be in the kitchen for several hours. The apron you make is very similar to a small apron from France that my grandparents gave me 54 years ago. I still have mine and I’m saving it for hoped for grandchildren.

  2. Grace says:

    I have black hand-me-down bib aprons from when my daughters used to work at a convenience store (never wore one before that). I love them, and what I love most is the big pocket – two would be even better!

  3. Alice says:

    Love the apron, I love the feel of putting it on and taking me places…I have my great granddaughter age 2 wearing one to garden..their like my children how to love one over the other….

  4. shannon rose says:

    Yes, I wear aprons because if I don’t, I wind up using whatever shirt I am wearing to wipe my hands or catch spills! Would love one of these beauties : )

  5. Jan Shaver says:

    It seems there were few aprons to survive the closet clean outs. I am fortunate to have a few collectible (at least to me) aprons.Those were the ones that were reserved for presenting the holiday foods. My favorite is faded and worn with a cowboy on one pocket roping and a cowgirl on another serving. I can just imagine this was for outside BBQ or picnics.Now it is proudly displayed by my iron ware.
    If I win this one it would be proudly used and displayed on me.

  6. Michele says:

    I also have wonderful memories of cooking with my gramma she tought me most of what I know about cooking, baking, canning and gardening. Her aprons were nothing fancy but they served their purpose. I have a few things from her kitchen, each and every time I use anything it takes me right back to her kitchen. When I wear an apron I always feel as if she is with me.

  7. Julia Hofley says:

    I collect aprons too here in the Detroit-area! I like to bring one home from our travels as it reminds me of the cuisine we enjoyed in a different region of the world. Traveling allows us to try new foods we’d never even think about making-many times the best food on a trip is made from the most humble ingredients that we all have at home or in the garden, just made in a way you didn’t think of before. I love cooking and when we come home, we have our friends over for a dinner party and get very creative and make dishes from the trip we just took and then show a powerpoint show of the trip while naturally enjoying wine from the area too. I love to wear my special apron and play music that we heard…it’s a way to remember the trip and share our travels with our friends. We call it our “Where in the World” party. Not only do aprons protect you while cooking, they can conjure up memories of a place and time you want to cherish~

  8. Trixie says:

    There’s something about aprons that just gives me a comforting feel of the kitchen! I have one with roosters on it that I love, but always forget that I have. These aprons are beautiful!

  9. Sarah says:

    I love to wear aprons, (also with bibs and pockets) so I made one for my niece and put some flower appliques on it from some of my colorful leftover fabric. As I was finishing the apron during a family reunion, I was given some more old fabric from my husband’s mother who died many years ago. I was able to add one last flower for my niece from my mother-in-law’s fabric collection. Now she has a family remembrance apron from her aunt and the grandmother she never met.

  10. Craig says:

    I do not wear an apron but should, based on the collection of spots on shirts that have become Jackson Pollocks of past meal preps.

  11. Edith Ellis says:

    I wear an apron when I’m cooking dinner for company, so I can keep my nice clothes spatter free. My favorite apron is a black chef’s apron that was my son’s. He used to bar tend at a now defunct restaurant and he passed his apron on to me when the job was no more.

  12. Marilyn says:

    It must be my age, but I seem to be getting more spots on my clothes. Would absolutely love to own such a lovely, useful work of art. Thank you. Marilyn

  13. Vicki says:

    Yes, I wear an apron, and I love big bib aprons that cover me well! Otherwise my pants end up getting used as a napkin or hand towel…. I especially love aprons with big pockets!

  14. margaret says:

    WOW! ENTRIES ARE NOW CLOSED, but I welcome more wonderful apron stories anytime. These were fantastic, thank you all.

    And the winner is: Joann (who loves her Williams Sonoma apron!). I will contact Joann by email.

  15. Sheila says:

    I have a funny apron story. When I was a newlywed my husband and I began restoring our old house which was built in 1823. We purchased 2 mustard yellow aprons and were furiously redoing the old house. I was in the kitchen on a very hot July day in just my bra, shorts and the apron. I suddenly had a surprise visitor that just stopped by and let themselves in. Caught in my white lace brassiere! Never been so embarrassed but now we laugh. I still love aprons and have a small collectiion. I like to wear special aprons on the Holidays.

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