Making authentic tomato sauce / recipe

Yesterday I celebrated one of the last hot days of summer by participating in a timeless Italian tradition: the making of the sauce. I’m not talking about grabbing a can of San Marzano tomatoes and sticking your immersion blender into your Grandmother’s old pot. I’m talking about three generations of women standing outside for hours under a hot sun while triple-washing then cooking then jarring fifteen bushels of plum tomatoes.

My morning began with a text message from my friend down the block: “FYI: doing sauce today. Stop by.” I had been debating whether to do some work or blow it off for a final beach day, but once this text came through all other thoughts disappeared and I rushed to get out the door and join my friend at her family’s house several towns away. This family originally hails from a small town in Italy many miles south of Salerno. I’ve had the pleasure of eating their homemade sauce and drinking their homemade wine, all prepared exactly the way they did it before they decided to move to America, and several times I offered to help out with the new harvest. Thank goodness they remembered to call me because what I had the privilege of experiencing is something most people don’t get to do (or very often have to pay for).

There’s nothing particularly complicated in the process yet I was thrilled that they would let me, a non-Italian outsider, have a hand in every aspect of production. It being a weekday, they were short-staffed as several women of the family had to stay at work and a few were disqualified due to… how shall I say this… their female cycle, which would most certainly ruin the sauce according to the Old Tradition! I kept thinking I was going to mess up the recipe and of course my friend teased that if anything tasted different I was sure to be the person blamed!

Cue the making of the sauce, and my photo montage of the process.

Using large buckets of cold water to triple-wash tomatoes, basil and parsley

Backyard fire pit where first raw tomatoes, then jarred ones, are boiled

"Boil and bubble, toil and trouble..."

Using a large slotted spoon to pull tomatoes out of the cauldron and into a crate lined with linen

Three people are needed to pour cooked tomatoes into a machine that separates the juice from skin & seeds

Parsley and basil await the red deluge

Buon appetito - the workers must be fed!

Collecting the sauce in a big vat

Filled jars hang out in the shade while awaiting their hot water bath

Cauldron is draped with linen to cushion the jars as they boil and bump

When cooked in linen this beautiful, how can it not taste good?

Jars lay on their side, nestled together

Jar lid boxes are crushed and used as space fillers so jars won't break; jars covered in linen between layers

After three layers of jars, filling the cauldron up to the top with water

All tucked in, nice and cozy

The final scene as I waved my goodbyes... it was going to be a while"

What a thoroughly enjoyable, communal experience that the anthropology major in me will never forget. Although I have to go back to get some jars of the finished product, I was given a jar of “raw” sauce to take home with me and eat immediately. Just an hour ago I threw it into a pot with some onions, garlic, spices and red wine and it’s on a low bubble right now, to be featured on tonight’s dinner menu. I’ll close my eyes at that first taste and dream of Italy…

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6 Responses to Making authentic tomato sauce / recipe

  1. Avagail C. Ungco says:

    I am a Filipina, but so in love with Italian cuisine, especially homemade pasta sauce cooked in old traditional way.. This is one is amazing!

  2. Wow. And I thought I was hot stuff canning the tomatoes from our orto. What a great experience, and the fact that it’s a communal experience makes it even better.
    Interesting…my Italian neighbors don’t put anything into their basil, parsley, salt..nothing. They like a blank slate I suppose.
    Very, very cool.

  3. Jocie says:

    OMG….that looks sooo good!!! Wish I was having some pasta and sauce right now. I am sure that was a great experience as well!! :-)

  4. Sophia says:

    Amazing!!! I never knew such a process existed – when I think of “homemade” sauce, I too think of getting the canned tomatoes and going from there, but this really redefines that. Looks delicious! Glad you chose to do this vs. going to the beach!

  5. Fran says:

    Wow, I could smell the tomatoes through this computer. It’s 8:30 in the morning, and I’m dying for tomato sauce and pasta right now. This was cool to read.

  6. Mama Maria says:

    Excellent documentation of a an ancient process wisely upgraded with today’s tools without compromising tradition or flavor. Great to see here!

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