Sauce day. Tomato day. Passata day. Whatever it’s called it is always a good day.
I married into an Italian family. The town where I live has a strong Italian culture and days like this happen all over. Once a year, families get together and make tomato sauce, or passata. We’re not talking sugar filled ketchup here. This is the stuff we use to make rich, delicious bolognese and pizza sauce.
Depending on the weather in the lead up to sauce day, the tomatoes are usually gathered by hand. There is a big tomato farm about 40 km out of town. Hundreds of cars gather early in the morning at the designated meeting place and then we all follow the farmer out to his fields, armed with buckets. The next couple of hours are spent picking buckets and buckets of juicy, sun-ripened roma tomatoes. We then pay the farmer per bucket and take our spoils back to GH’s uncle’s place.
Unfortunately this year, due to the extreme heat wave this summer, many of the tomato crops were destroyed. We had to pre-order and pick up the tomatoes at the market, and a big thanks goes to Uncle R and Aunty S for organising the 230kgs of tomatoes we used this year and for allowing us to use their home to make the sauce.
Once the tomatoes have been picked (or picked up!) they are thrown (gently of course!) out onto a big tarp on the lawn and washed down. We then put them into big tubs and fill with fresh water. From here they go to the cutting table. Everyone who has a spare pair of hands gathers at the cutting table and we proceed to cut each tomato into smallish pieces ready to go through the crusher.
Then two people work the crusher, pouring the tomatoes through what looks like a meat mincer. The juice flows into a tall container with a tap at the bottom. The tomatoes go through the crusher 3 times to extract all of the juice and pulp. The skins and seeds remain in the waste which goes out to the chook pen. The older chooks leave the scraps but the younger ones, the naïve first years, run eagerly to see what prize they have won. By the end of the day, they’ve had enough of that strange red stuff that seems to keep coming and coming!
Once the tall bucket has been filled with the juice and pulp, salt is added, followed by a thorough stirring. We then put the mixture into long-neck bottles typically used in beer making. The tap at the bottom of the container fits nicely into the opening of the bottles and ensures that none is wasted. The bottles then move to the capping table where metal tops are pressed on. Once all of the chopping and crushing has been done, and the bottles have been filled and capped, they are taken over to the fire pit. Two 44-gallon drums lay over the fire pit with their sides cut open. The bottles are gently placed into the barrels until they reach the top, and then the barrels are filled with water.
We light the fire and wait for the water to reach boiling point, then allow the bottles to boil for 45 minutes to an hour, after which time the fire is extinguished and the bottles remain in the hot water bath for another hour or so. They are then divvied out to the family and go on to the much higher purpose of making beautiful, rich and tasty bolognese or pizza sauce.
I was privileged to receive Nonna’s bolognese recipe after my husband and I got engaged. I felt like the mysteries of the world had been revealed to me! It is still the best sauce I have ever tasted and I feel very lucky to be able to cook it at home with homemade passata that I helped to make!
Do you gather with your family for a traditional day of making something? What do you make and where did the tradition come from?