Ah yes, end of summer ceremonies include the tomato sauce making. This year my husband and I were on our own–the first I can remember not working with my in-laws (Sicilian immigrants and the originators of this family tradition)… and all the kids were conveniently out of town.
Without Nonna & Nonno to watch over us, we IMMEDIATELY cheated by not hand picking them… we have so few weekends available and it rained all week and the usual farm (Filasky’s in Maryland) was not allowing us out on the field. We purchased them at a store outlet for a farmer’s market and I’m REALLY okay with not picking in a muddy field.
We ended up with about 80 quarts all hot packed and slowly cooling in chests covered in blankets. It will last us until next August (depending upon needy children and friends who will *now* come out of the woodwork…).
I was introduced to this tradition over 25 years ago while dating my husband. His parents dutifully worked very hard to make sauce for themselves and enough for each of their sons who were on their own. Some years we helped more than others.
As our family grew, we all (with more workers each few years) helped out–we needed a lot! This year mom and dad will experience it all being done for them… we will be giving them their share. I guess now in their upper 80’s they deserve the break!
I guess we have officially become Nonna & Nonno. Tony barking orders at me… but I’m not Nonna… so he needs to keep it zipped or wear boiling hot stewed tomatoes. Plus at some point, I’m going to start drinking… hey, I have to add some ‘German-Irish’ to this tradition… I’m not Sicilian if you could tell by my red hair…
UPDATE: I’ve gotten a lot of requests for the recipe but it’s not what you think–we don’t add all the seasonings before we hot pack them– just tomatoes, basil leaves and salt.
Here is the entire process… We use ripe plum tomatoes (usually 4 bushels at a time) and put them in a small baby pool full of water and wash them by hand (in our garage). We put them in a strainer and cut each one in half and scoop out the water, seeds and excess pulp (which in plum tomatoes, there isn’t a lot of waste).
We stew them with fresh basil leaves (we do grow a lot of that). Cut the basil just before you use it you will pick off only leaves, no stems. The basil must be cleaned off of dirt (or yeah, bugs, LOL!) but you can’t leave the basil soaking in water too long or it gets black, so someone picks off the leaves while others are cutting tomatoes and they don’t sit long before going in.
I don’t have a ratio of basil and salt to tomatoes– we just do it by ‘eye’ (anyone who has ever cooked with an Italian mom knows this phenomenon). After stewing them until it breaks down, we run the tomatoes through a sieve (we use this one), which separates out the skin and any remaining seeds. If you think that the sieve is expensive, lets just say this family takes tomato sauce seriously (say, like my family took distilling bathtub gin in the 20’s). Anyway, they sell less expensive ones and of course hand-crank ones (been there, done that… just go for electric).
Then we boil the strained tomatoes again for about an hour and then hot pack them just like that. When you go to use the sauce, you will want to add olive oil, some minced fresh garlic, salt, paper and a bit of oregano. How much? Ask Nonna, she’ll say ‘don’t ask how much, just watch! Pay attention!’