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(post, Judith Klinger)
Once upon a time there was a woman who always cut the ends off the ham before she put it in the roasting pan. Her daughter, having learned the recipe from her mother, cut the ends of the ham before putting it in the roasting pan. When it was the grand daughter’s turn to make the ham, she asked, “Why do we have to cut the ends off, Grandma?” Grandma replied, “Because my roasting pan was too small.” It’s good to remember to question, to not work from rote. Case in point: I just figured out that I don’t have to peel the tomatoes before I can them. I learned how to peel tomatoes (pour boiling water over them and the skins will slip off) at my mother’s knee. I remember the hours, the tub of hot water with tomatoes bobbing around, the wrinkly fingers, the smell of a gazillion warm tomatoes as we put them up for the winter. I also remember a few Italian summers ago, having to deal with a bumper crop of cherry tomatoes, and I peeled every last, stinkin’ one of them. It was a good day not to come and talk to me in the kitchen. This year, I had the “Ah-Hah Moment God” come and bonk me on the head with my food mill. I put the tomatoes in a pot of boiling water for about 5 minutes, ran them through the food mill, all the tomato juice and pulp goes into the pot and you are left with nothing but seeds and skins in the mill. No peeling. No seeding. The tomato juice and pulp went back on the stove until it thickened, then into the sterilized jars and then back into a water bath. Sooooo much easier than peeling all those tomatoes!! No wonder those clever Italians call it passato. So the moral of the story is: just because you’ve always done it one way, doesn’t mean it’s the only way. And that’s not just in the kitchen.