Mention the words "Tomato Sauce Day" to several Italians and you can guarantee that they would get flashbacks of their respective family memories. I distinctly remember a scene from the movie "Looking for Alibrandi" where everyone gets together in the backyard to make sauce. It looks like a blast with Italian folk music playing in the background..but, as is often the case - our Italian backyard is not like the movie. I have to burst this imaginary notion of a laid back and relaxing Tomato Sauce Day (TSD) -it is not a time nor a place to Mambo Italian in the backyard. It is that one day of the year where everyone is expected to perform back breaking labour to produce bottles of precious, homemade tomato sauce which serves as the base of family meals throughout the year. And when they say they make it in bulk - they mean BULK!
The night before, the Boss Lady and I were out, enjoying a rather boozy saturday night. She says : "Tomorrow is TSD..you are coming and you are writing about it, you are an adopted Italian anyway". Boss Lady clearly gives no options - and I was more than happy to oblige! I have always wanted to participate in this tradition, so come Sunday morning my adoptive Italian family, Boss Lady, and our respective hangovers were all present in the backyard. We already got scolded because TSD starts at 6am sharp.. I can't even tell you what time we started participating! And so the day begins, surrounded by tomatoes!
TSD is a very well organised affair. I can tell that my adoptive Italian family are experts in the art of TSD and have their well oiled procedure down pat! I'm lucky because some strict Italian families do not let non-italians help during TSD. Apparently ruins the sauce! This is a silly myth but I washed my hands with Italian soap (Palmoli-vino) as a preventative measure.The first sets of photos above show the preparation. The ripe tomatoes are sorted and selected, washed, cut in half and put aside. All up there were 34 large boxes of fresh tomatoes to turn into rich tomato concentrate (passata), and this was just for the small immediate family! Some families make TSD a major "once a year" family affair - producing massive quantities of sauce with Aunts, Uncles and Grandparents involved in the process. This was TSD was small in comparison!
After preparing the tomatoes - its time for the big boil. This was rather pleasant on the hottest day of summer! The cut tomatoes were placed in a HUGE pot of boiling water. The tomatoes soak over plastic netting, which serves a double purpose of keeping all the tomatoes together and draining the excess water. The tomatoes are ready only if the skin starts to peel off easily.
How good is the homemade draining stand? It is a plastic bread crate positionws on an angle, which allows the water to seep through. The less water, the thicker the tomato sauce, which means you can use less of it.We drain as much water as we can to keep the sauce thick, and tossing the tomato "Slush" around in the draining stand seems to do the trick. You would'nt be a happy chap if you had a white shirt on - this is where it starts to get messy!
Now meet the TSD Machine. This multi purpose machine processes the tomato into a thick puree and we keep loading the cooked tomato. This is the same machine used to mince meat and assemble homemade salami. No dainty bowls or pretty containers for this sauce - it goes straight into a big red bucket, ready for bottling.
The beer bottle collection stacked in the garage is the most prized possesion for an Italian family. Boss Lady's family have collected 50 or so crates of beer bottles over time by arranging back door deals with a local function halls! The bottles are cleaned and re-used every time, year after year and they are stored with cling wrap over them to keep them clean and dry. Some italian families also add a basil leaf inside each bottle to add a bit of flavour when the sauce is stored.
Now comes the fun part, funneling the sauce into each bottle! It is considered a mortal sin to have any wastage during TSD - if you accidentally drop a cut tomato or spill any of the sauce by overfilling a bottle, you are guaranteed a dirty look from the grown ups! See, how can you dance to folk songs with that kind of pressure? Boss Lady tells me that they do not add any spices or even salt to the sauce before bottling. Salt can be added during cooking. If you add the salt now, you might forget and add more salt when preparing a dish - producing a saltier then intended result.
Once all the bottles are sealed and ready, we load all the full bottles in a heavy duty tin drum. This drum is filled with water and the bottles are left to boil again. This is so the bottles are sterilised, sealed and preserved - taking up to 8 hours to boil. The Boss Lady and I pat each other on the back like we have achieved the unachievable.. if only! Arguably the most important part was next - the HUGE clean up!
Nothing beats playing in the sun with a garden hose especially on a 40 degree plus afternoon, and thats when when the kiddies try to help! We literally have to hose off tomato residue off our skin - and this is where the fun started! Water fights on a hot day definitely erases all memory of hard serious labour! TSD was such an awesome day and it was just amazing being part of a yearly family tradition. I can't wait to try a bottle of TSD 2011 sauce and whip up a mean pasta sugo - I was told that my contributions definitely earned me atleast 1 bottle! Until next year! (well actually being the good itali-pino girl that I am..I have volunteered my services for homemade salami day..besides, my name is Gianna and thats as Italian as homemade salsicce - so stay tuned!)