“Doin’ tomatoes”…Part Two!

 

 

Picture

Now the next part of the back breaking work starts…sterilizing, prepping, washing, cutting, gathering, seasoning, boiling, jarring….wow!
There is a reason that this is:
#1. not a job for one person (as I learned the hard way when I tried to do this alone last year!)
#2.  not a job for the weak of heart as you will curse a few times during the process, wondering why you do it or at least, why you do so many (but the pride of seeing a cellar full of beautiful jars makes you do it again and again…kinda like giving birth!).
#3. a job carried on through generations and, primarily begun by a group of people who know the value of hard, back breaking work and understand that perseverance will always bring good things your way.  My mom and dad both grew up with very little and, although my parents did very well for themselves, they never forgot the value of hard work.  Going through this process every year reminds me how their dedication to everything “hard” in life has taught me to live the same way…work hard, give freely and be grateful.
It’s pretty simple.

Picture

First, get all of your stuff together.  You could do this in a kitchen with simple canning tools (like what I have posted earlier when I make jam), but with this quantity, more industrial tools make the job way easier.  This is a propane burner that connects to a propane tank (like from your bbq) and a GIANT pot that hold many jars at one time (this could take weeks if you use small tools!).  They sell all of these things at stores like Nella (restaurant suppliers) but you could always just ask an Italian neighbour…they would love to lend these things to you, as long as you are willing to have them tell you THEIR way of doing it and agreeing that they are indeed right in THEIR way and that you promise to do it THEIR way…got it?
Fill the pot with water and start the fire…this will take a while to come to a boil so start it while you are prepping the tomatoes.

Picture

Then you need 2 big plastic pails like this because you need to wash the tomatoes, not once but twice (did I tell you Italians like to clean things?)

Picture

Rub, rub, rub…

Picture

Then you have to carefully inspect them for ANY spots (I learned that a very innocent spot could be a worm)…cut them out and put whole tomatoes in one bin and any tomatoes that have been cut in another (you will blanch them separately because the cut tomatoes can’t stay in the water as long, as they will absorb too much water)

Picture

Then you have to get your “tomato tablecloths” ready (large cloths that have been saved over the years solely for this purpose)

Picture

Then you have to line the bushels (which, of course, you have saved over the years solely for this purpose) with the cloths.  The bushels are good because the blanched tomatoes need to drain a bit and these are perfect for that (you could even use big plastic bins that have holes drilled at the bottom – which again would be used solely for this purpose)

Picture

We blanched one bushel at a time…roughly 10 minutes or until the skins start to break open.

Picture

While the tomatoes are blanching, we needed  to get the herbs ready.  I picked almost all of my parsley and basil from my garden and brought it to my parent’s house.  I washed it in a large barrel and then separated the parsley and basil from their stems.  I kept the basil whole (one or 2 large leaves in each jar) and then my mom rough chopped the parsley.

Picture

I said “that’s lots of parsley…let me do it in the food processor”…of course my mom said “nah, it’s ways better by hand!”  She’s a workhorse too!

Picture

Here is our set-up…it’s so advanced and technical (not)…
We use an old melamine card table (that, of course every Italian has kept to use solely for this…oh, forget it…you understand).  On the table, the electric mill is set up with a tray to catch the seeds and skin and space to put the bushel of blanched tomatoes to be added to the top and processed.  On the ground in front of the table, there is a 22 litre pail (that was once used to hold juice to make wine) which will catch the tomato passata (translated to mean passed tomatoes…juice and puree without seeds and skins) that we will put in jars.

Picture

This is what they look like when they have just been blanched and drained.  We collected some of the “tomato water” that drains from the tomatoes because sometimes the sauce is so thick that you have to add back some of the water to thin it out a bit (or else it begins to look like tomato paste).  Next year, I think I will try to Macguyver some sort of contraption that will collect ALL of the tomato water…it pained me to see all of that vitamin goodness drip onto the patio and onto the grass.  I think it would be a great thing to add to soups!

Picture

Now, begin passing them through the machine…one person fills the funnel, another pushes them through with a plunger (this comes with the machine) and another person stirs the pail and scrapes the sieve part of the machine (where the tomato puree somes out) to make sure it doesn’t clog

Picture

See how it works?  Magical….

Picture

This is what comes out from the first pass through….God forbid we would throw away all of this goodness (did I tell you Italians hate waste?).  This goes through the machine again (adding a bit of the tomato water to help it through).

Picture

This is what come through the second time.  Then the question, “should we put it through a third time?”…..ya right…I don’t think so…

Picture

Then about 1/4 c of salt and a large handful of chopped parsley into each pail

Picture

Stir, stir and then stir some more….

Picture

Fill the jars (we use pretty big ones…it makes the job a whole heck of a lot faster)…

Picture

Wipe the mouth of the jar carefully (I can’t stress this enough…if there is just one speck of anything on the glass part, the seal won’t take and the tomatoes will go bad…if you are the “wiper”, this is serious business…a crime involving jail time could take place if you do your job wrong…I’m kinda kidding…kinda)

Picture

Last year, I threw the lids (the part with the rubber seal in it) into the boiling water to get it more rubbery so the seal was more likely to “take” but my mom said she has never done that.  She wipes the jar, puts the clean lids on and screws them on tight.  She puts the jars back in the pot, which now has clean water because the water from blanching is “dirty” and we need to line the bottom of the pot with an old tablecloth (who has this many tablecloths?) so the jars “nestle nicely and don’t move around while they boil.  Bring it to a rolling boil and keep the jars in there for about 15-20 minutes (I think it was longer but I think that’s an Italian 15 minutes – which is more like 30). They came out of the pot and the seals began to pop (good sign that the seals have “taken” but to be absolutely sure, the lid should be concave and not move when you push down with your finger)

Picture

When these are empty, that means you have no more tomatoes to process, you are done and Bob’s your uncle (or maybe Gino’s your uncle…not sure)

Picture

So, I now have my share of the jars nicely tucked away into my cellar…boxes and boxes of beautiful tomato goodness to last me throughout the winter.  As I said before, this process is tough business.  I’m sure if it was only about the money you save or the quality of tomatoes, this long standing tradition would very quickly disappear.  But the reality is, it’s about getting your hands dirty and transforming something that has come from a seed into a glorious batch of goodness that will bring your family around the table.  It’s about remembering the value of really hard work.  But, most of all, it’s about doing something that is sometimes hard to carve time out for…spending two whole days with your family talking about food and life and believing that you can solve a lot of problems by just “hanging out and doing tomatoes”…who knew?
2 Comments
  • Jenn Hayhoe, Tina Cesaroni
    April 12, 2014

    Comments

    Jenn09/12/2013 11:11am
    You are creating great memories for your parents too!! We all know how they cherish the time we spend with them as they age.
    One of these years…your “cake” friend will have to try this!!! Muah xo
    Reply
    Tina 09/12/2013 12:30pm
    Great photos!!!
    Reply

  • Amanda@ChewTown
    March 16, 2015

    You are so right!! It is about so much more than the making of the sauce itself. It is about what it stands for. Every family does it slightly differently and it is wonderful to see your take on it.

Write a Comment

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *


Show Buttons
Hide Buttons