Every year, like nearly every Italian family in Essex County, our family makes the sauce. Tomato sauce, that is. We make sauce every year without fail. Timing is everything. There are only a few weeks to make sure you get the best tomatoes.
Starting in early September, my mom checks in regularly with La Stella’s on Erie Street to make sure she gets the best batch. We’ve been going to La Stella..well…forever. So my mom has a tight relationship with them. This year she ordered a couple bushels a little early and then canceled them because we were too busy. Instead of having the tomatoes just sit there we decided to wait a little longer.
We quickly got a call from La Stella’s asking “is everything okay?” It seems since mom cancelled her tomato order they just wanted to make sure the family was alright. Need I say more?
Back in the day it wasn’t as easy as calling up the local grocer and ordering bushels. Oh no. My parents made the trek out to the county, us kids in tow, to pick the tomatoes. I have to say that I hated it and dreaded the arrival of September. We would all head out to the farm with the aunts, uncles and cousins and spend the day picking tomatoes in the field.
A lot has changed since then. Not only do we not hand pick every tomato ourselves, but the process now only takes one day instead of three. And we’ve moved the entire production from our basement out into the driveway. Yup. That’s right. We make tomato sauce in our driveway.
Every family has their own way of making “the sauce”. Each Italian family will give you their version. Most of it depends on what region of Italy you are from. Our family has a very basic recipe. We boil the tomatoes, squish them through this machine that separates the skin from the good stuff (I have no idea what this is called…our family just calls it “the machine”…very industrial sounding, I know…we also use this term to refer to the vacuum cleaner…don’t ask), cook the sauce then add it to a jar with a sprig or two of basil. Seal up the jar, store it in the cellar and you’re good to go.
We used to crank that machine by hand for hours! Then a few years back my dad hooked up a motor to it. We thought it was the greatest idea since sliced bread. That day, he was the best dad in the world!
These days I look forward to September and I love getting together for a day to carry on a tradition that’s been in our family for years. Sure it’s changed a bit, gotten a little easier, but the essence of the process is still there. It’s a family affair and everyone chips in to help. As my mom always likes to point out: You eat la pasta? Then you make the sauce. You’re either in, or your out.
At the end of the day, she cooks up “la pasta” and we sit outside to the best meal of the year. There is nothing like fresh homemade tomato sauce ladled over spaghetti and enjoying the fruits of your labour. Tear up a few basil leaves, sprinkle a little parmeggiano over top and it’s an explosion of flavour in your mouth.
p.s. after I wrote this my dad called up to say that “the machine” is actually called Spremipomodoro….or in English “Tomatoes Squeezer”. I’m not lying to you. It’s actually called tomato squeezer. Here’s the proof…
So does your family make tomato sauce? Or maybe they do something completely different like make jam. Post a comment and let me know! I’d love to hear about it!