A Magazine about the Hudson Valley’s local economy, published by Hudson Valley Current.

For Pasta-erity

A family tomato sauce tradition

text and art by Melissa Hewitt
A traditional mom

Doing traditional things

Handed down from mom to daughter

A child, as she grows to a woman, has to decide for herself if a tradition is worthy and has value for her.

Everything seems to move so much faster now, so much more packed into a small space or time. The quickest way to the final product is the general consensus. Quantity and bottom line. Television and Xerox copies. Wonder and Ragu.

Seems to be no time for bread baking and sauce making. But, what if we slowed it all down? Maybe we would find and experience the art of living.

Once I thought of family traditions as nonsense. But I now see their value and find some of them worthy and fitting for me. Out tomato sauce is one of those things.

To fully enjoy the recipe, taste the sauce.

SAUCE TIME

At the end of every August we get a call. “It’s sauce time,” mom says. And she rounds up as many as her children and their significant others and their children, and packs them into the mini van heading out east.

Into the fields with all the other sauce-making families, each with a different recipe they swear by. We pluck those plum tomatoes from their vine. We welcome the perfect ones into our family, and the rotten ones we throw…at each other.

The Hay Ride

We have to go to the field with a hayride, no other field will do. We simply must be bounced around!

What kind of party would it be if we weren’t dropped off in the middle of nowhere and picked up again at the farmer’s whim?

Yield

One bushel yields about 20 quart-sized jars of sauce. This year we picked six bushels of plum tomatoes (must be PLUM tomatoes).

So we do nothing but sauce for a complete weekend. We got ahead of ourselves this time by squeezing the seeds out of too many tomatoes. Once we squeezed them we couldn’t chance them rotting by waiting till the next day to cook them.

So we were up till five in the morning, grinding and stirring and sweating. We couldn’t let mom wake up to such a disaster. (She went to bed early opting for the morning shift.)

So two more hours of cleaning. Sound fun yet?

IN THE KITCHEN

The sting of onions, the heat, ohh, the heat, the mess…am I sure I want to take this on? The smell, the taste. Over the course of each saucy weekend, mom states at least 20 times, “It’s worth it when we have the sauce for winter.” That’s her pep talk. She’s right.

Step 1

Wash tomatoes by filling the sink half way with water and half way with tomatoes. Rinse, drain, and repeat until water is clean. Refill the sink and squeeze the seeds out of each tomato. The process in neater if you keep them underwater. But no matter what you do, those seeds will squirt far and wide. Wear your play clothes. Let the tomatoes drain in a colander to get out some of the extra water. We don’t always do this part, especially when it’s late.

Steps 2, 3, 4, 5, 6

Put the whole tomatoes in a big pot or pots.

Add (per six to eight quart pot):

1 very large chopped Onion

1 long Hot Pepper

1/4 cup Salt (at least)

Cook until tomatoes and onions are nice and soft.

STIR INCESSANTLY!

Step 7

Get out your grinder and food mill. Pour sauce in the top, and grind away. Crank the handle. I hear there is an electric one, which would cut your time in half. That would be cheating (since we don’t have one).

Put the same batch through the grater about three times till the seeds and skin (the waste) are coming out bone dry.

Next Step

Put the sauce back on the stone in a clean pot. Cook until thick (like sauce). As it starts to get thick

Add: 4 tablespoons of sugar (to taste)

1 or more cups chopped Fresh Basil per pot

Don’t forget not to stop stirring!

It’s done when it looks and tastes like the tomato sauce you’ve been dreaming of.

Mid-Recipe Background

Mom, Teresa Grazioso Hewitt, was born in Sicily in 1947. She came over to America when she was eight years old with her mom, dad, sister, and brother.

But this recipe has nothing to do with Italy. It is actually her sister Julie’s recipe that she got from a French friend named Maggie…I believe.

Anyway my mom and my aunt (and uncle and nonna) are great cooks. And this sauce has always been an extended family tradition for as long as I can remember.

Onward.

CANNING OR JARRING

We always have our jars hot and ready at this point (mom’s careful planning). We use the dishwasher for the jars, as long as they have just finished and are really hot. You can also boil them. We use glass jars with the seal and the ring separate. Boil the lids. Reuse the jars each year, but buy new lids to make sure the seal is good.

So…take a hot jar and pour the sauce in. Wipe off the rim with a clean towel and put on the hot seal and ring (you figure it out, potholders help).

TURN UPSIDE DOWN and put aside to sit for 12 to 24 hours. They must be upside down to make the proper seal and to get out the air. Hey, that’s how we do it. Now you are ready to store it, or better yet…EAT IT!

SUPPER TIME

The moment we’ve all been waiting for. Sometimes we can’t even wait till the kitchen is fully clean. But for a better taste experience, save the big pasta dinner for the next day. And don’t forget the ricotta salata for grating on top.

Me, I’m a semi-traditional girl doing some traditional things which I’ll hand down to my daughter.