“Doin’ Tomatoes”…Part One!

 

 

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Having Italian heritage, there are somethings that are inevitable in your family:
1.  you probably grew up with more food on your dinner table than was absolutely necessary (and maybe even forced to finish everything on your plate before you left the table because there are many starving children in this world!)
2.  you spent every Christmas Eve with every relative you know sharing stories (and food of course) around the table…probably in someone’s basement using plates and dishes that don’t even remotely match
3.  you have been (and may still be) involved in the tomato canning process.This process of “doing tomatoes” is something many of us Italians have done and still do, not because it’s economical (and depending on our Canadian summer weather, you may not even end up with a better product than the high end San Marzano canned tomatoes that are imported from Italy,) but rather because it’s tradition.Many steadfast “preservers” insist on doing the tomatoes over Labour Day weekend (something that is not always seen as good…especially when you were a teenager!).  We have always done them in the few weeks that follow Labour Day which has worked out well for me, as I like Labour Day to be all about bbq’s, summer drinks and lots of friends.  The tomato process involves going to a local farm to pick up bushels of tomatoes (yes, most Italians have their own gardens, but the tomatoes they grow are for their own dinner tables)…and after you see this process, you will notice that, with the amount of tomatoes we buy, you would need acres of tomatoes to use our own for this canning process!This year, we had the opportunity to visit Pat, a friend of my dad, who loves to garden and plants way more veggies than he could ever use.  He told us we could come and get whatever we wanted but the only stipulation was that we pick them ourselves (which we’ve never done…it is back breaking work for me so you can imagine how tough it is for my parents!)

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Pat is a great guy who is retired and farms purely out of pleasure…look at all of these tomatoes!  These are San Marzano – an Italian variety of tomatoes that are perfect for making sauce – and they were perfectly ripe!  The funny thing was, when we arrived, we saw what looked like acres of tomatoes that had fallen off the vines and were rotting on the ground.  But, in actual fact, my dad said this is what happens to this variety and at a closer glance, we saw how beautiful they were!

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Bushels and bushels of beautifully red tomatoes ready to be taken home.  The best part was that we could process them right away (usually, you buy bushels at the farm that have already been picked but they usually need a few days to get soft enough to process)..  Part of canning tomatoes means waiting a couple of days for them to ripen to perfection.  What does that mean, you ask?  Well, every Italian has “tomato tarps” or random pieces of plastic that are laid across the garage floor – which is usually clean enough to eat off of (I know…very weird but true) – and then the tomatoes are laid on these tarps for a few days to “age”.  Lucky for us, we skipped this step this year!

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This my dad doing the back breaking work…in his seventies, he still works like a mule!!

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The first bushel (one of 7 this year…which is a pretty small batch)…beautiful, red and ready to for the jars!

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Out of curiosity, I went for a walk to see what else he plants “for fun”…above are some artichokes (I have never seen them grown here!) and below are over 1000 fennel bulbs (imagine!) and a watermelon patch….

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And this is a Sicilian zucchini (they grow upwards and have to have something to climb up because the squash gets soooo big….it’s great in a soup!)

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Here are a couple of other friends at the farm…most likely exchanging stories about whose plants are bigger, better and more productive…aren’t bragging rights awesome?
More tomorrow when we will get into the actual process!!

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