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. Cynthia Alexander says:

    I have a collection of aprons that I rotate depending on what I’m cooking. Demin for BBQ; Red Rosie for tomato dishes; Pink Gingham for pies (just feels right).

  2. Mary Ann says:

    My favorite aprons are the ones my mom and grandma wore and I still have a few hanging around. I wear aprons now hoping that what I cook will turn out as delicious as their meals did. I would love a new one!

  3. jan says:

    I have several aprons, but none with pockets I envision I need. I like to have certain tools within fingertip range, even as I walk around the kitchen. Haven’t found an apron that can hold the tools. I finally have a sewing machine, and I may try and make one. However, the apron I love the most (emotional, not functional) is a very old one I used to see my grandmother wear, once the food was on the table and she wanted a dressy apron. I still have this apron, but I don’t cook in it. Still, I love aprons when I am canning or drying vegetables or fruits or even making bread. It is a time of discovery and not cooking to deliver a product for public review. It becomes a very earthy rhythm.

  4. Adriana says:

    Yes, I wear an apron as soon as I start cooking. The apron must have a bib, large pockets and a wide draw string for easy removal.

  5. ELENA says:

    I love aprons that provide deep pockets and an absorbent place to wipe my hands. The hitch is making sure I have enough of them so there is always a clean one on hand. No frills, just sturdy linen so I feel like a real chef!

  6. sarah from ohio says:

    Margaret — I like aprons, and sometimes I even remember to wear one! My favorite has a huge picture of Elvis. Thanks for your great blog. I enjoy it very much, especially the exquisite photos.

  7. Deborah says:

    I have a small collection of aprons that were worn by my paternal great grandmother, both of my grandmothers, and one that belonged to my mother. I never wear these…they are too precious to me. The apron I wear now when I cook is the heavy duty denim one that I received in Merida , Yucatan when I took David Sterling’s “Los Dos” cooking class.

  8. Patricia says:

    Love aprons that tie and have roomy pockets and remind me of learning to cook as a young girl. Even though my spouse is the master chef and I rarely cook, I always feel more expert when donning an apron…..and once I retire, I plan to retire him at least twice a week.

  9. Michelle says:

    I wanted to make something special for my hubby when we got married. Since we enjoy cooking together I purchaced a his/her pattern and material to make matching aprons…they are still sitting in my dresser drawer, cut & pinned, waiting to be sewn!

  10. Jen says:

    I wear an apron everytime I cook. My 3 year old knows it’s getting to be time to eat when the apron goes on! I like a bib apron with ties long enough to wrap around and tie in front.

  11. Brandy says:

    My favorite apron is my ‘just for show’ Christmas apron. It is in very festive colors with large mittens for pockets. I smile every time I wear it!

  12. Lourdes says:

    I wear my old darkroom apron, that I used to wear when developing black and white prints. Now that I mention it, a new one would be just great!

  13. Julia Holden says:

    I have several antique aprons as well as many newer ones. I also have special Christmas and Halloween ones. While I don’t always wear one while cooking, I really should. I am kinda klutzy when cooking and this year will be my first time trying my hand at canning.

  14. Anne O'Donnell says:

    I wear an apron when I cook, especially when I’m making anything with messy/staining ingredients like tomatoes, beets, or chocolate. What I like about my apron is its funky teapot, cup design, which hides a lot of chocolate stains. It’s so cool looking – even with the stains – that I leave it hanging prominently on a hook in my kitchen as a decoration. My other favorite apron, soon to make its seasonal appearance, is a halloween-themed one, black (the best for hiding stains) with orange pumpkins. Thx for the chance to win!

  15. Marilyn says:

    My favourite apron is one of my late Mum’s, hand-sewn, one of many produced for the local church bazaar. Aprons in the home were always present, for grandmothers working over the wood stoves, or for make-shift bibs for babies in high chairs. We cook in more casual clothes now, but I would like to wear an apron more often, and still sometimes cook over a wood-fired cookstove. An apron is a practical item but can be a fine thing to be treasured too.

  16. Claire says:

    I purchased my favorite apron from a small shop in Antibes France. I feel as though I’m back in that beautiful area every time i slip it over my head.

  17. June Harris says:

    I wear aprons for serious cooking and canning. Otherwise there is a dish towel over my shoulder! The pretties I cannot resist collecting are reserved for last minute prep and serving for special occasions. My favorite “special” apron was made by my young daughter from a festive dishtowel! The work apron I reach for first is soft ,absorbent. and full fronted.

  18. amy lynn herman says:

    i don an apron at least once a week when i bake bread. i make one loaf for my house and three others to give away! i just moved to a new town and it instantly connects me with neighbors and new friends.

  19. Angie says:

    I do not use an apron when cooking or baking presently, but I would love to have one
    to start the habit. My husband could use one too.

  20. mary says:

    I should wear apron’s more than I do! I too remember the home economic’s project (which true to form, I did not finish lol). the tomatoes sound too good, my italian born nunun and aunt’s canned their own in the same way, using green and clear wine bottles, not sure of the cap/closing.

  21. jamie says:

    I never wear an apron for home cooking, but always seem to pine for them when I see beautiful ones on display. I like them patterned and plain and would like to sew one at some point in my life….

  22. Ann says:

    My paternal grandmother always wore an apron and most of the day. She was the only grandmother I ever had, as my maternal grandmother passed before I was born. There is just something about making the trip to my grandmother’s house where upon entering you saw this short but beautiful white-haired lady, who was always cooking, baking, or canning something when we arrived. Aprons bring back every little memory of all that was right in the world and the love of my grandmother. Her pocket (a must on an apron) always contained, her linen hankie, the recipe card she was working on, and a short little stub of a pencil. She was always prepared to tinker with a recipe. I wear an apron but not for practical reasons, more sentimental ones.

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