Sunday, September 7, 2008

Sauced



Inspired by a few of you from a few posts ago who suggested using the camera as shield to hide behind (brilliant!), two weekends ago I bravely ventured into a big family situation and distanced myself. There was a just-turned one-year-old there who I could avoid because people, camera! It's difficult! It has all these dials and shit! And when my MIL came screaming across the yard trying to get Mr. ABF's attention and he whipped out his cell phone ready to dial 911 only to be met with, "Look! The Baby's WALKING!" -- I am confident, confident, that my big ass camera stiffled my "Well, LA-TI-FUCKING-DA." Totally. Need to talk about BIL's kid's first birthday party? I need to find better light. You may be on to something.

The story of a few weekends ago actually begins eons ago, when Mr. ABF was a boy. Every summer, his Big Italian Family would get together and jar tomatoes. No, scratch that, they would jar sauce. His grandfather set up enormous army-issue pots on an old gas stovetop that he picked up at the dump, and they'd cook down bushels of Jersey tomatoes. (What exactly constituted a "bushel" was a hot topic that weekend.) Once cooked, they'd run the tomatoes through a press, a Rube Goldberg contraption his grandfather set up with a grinder powered by an old wash machine motor and belt. Finally, they'd cook it until hot again, and then jar hot in order to skip the boiling-to-seal step.



When I met Mr. ABF many moons ago, he had in his possession numerous mason jars of red sauce. And when an evening called for it, he'd saute some garlic and parsley in olive oil, add a splash of wine, and the dump in a jar or two of his family's tomatoes. (To this we have over the years added anything from homemade meatballs to live lobster.) And it's seriously the best thing you've ever tasted.



His grandfather was sick for many years, and finally died in the Fall '06. The tomato tradition, however, died years ago. At some point, in our last house, we finally used the last of the good jars and were left from that point to use store-bought tomatoes. Which we discovered really aren't the same.



Someone, probably after a few too many glasses of vino, had the bright idea that maybe we should revive the tradition. Inspired by memories of watching his grandmother sweat in the August heat as she sat on her stoop slicing tomatoes into a pot that came up to her waist, Mr. ABF deicded this was exactly the tradition he'd like to revive for Bella's sake. One of the old pots was located, another one ordered (who knew they made gumbo in such big vessels?). Portable gas burners and an electric mill e-tailed. Tomatoes and basil picked up at market. And finally, family amassed in order to go through the process again, and hopefully for at least another generation more.



This was the year to get the kinks out we kept reminding ourselves, and good thing, because batch two (clearly marked with a big "2" on the mason jars) got a bit toasty. We sorted through the problem, chalked it up as a learning experience, and vowed we'd at least use the jars for chili and failing that, decoration.



But batches 1, and 3-6 looked and smelled wonderful: deep red, thick, fragrant. We figured out how to avoid burn (pulverize the tomatoes a bit with the enormous wooden stirring utensil before turning on heat), and how to get the mill operating smoothly (send things through HOT).



And while I was dubious that simply reheating the sauce to near boiling and jarring hot would provide a substantial seal, I was proven wrong. Rubber gloves donned to fend the heat and help with grip, lids quickly twisted and the air filled with the sounds of metal popping as the lids sealed.



After three days of solid work, we had enough cases to send a few home with everyone there (we split up batch #2 so no one got stuck with a bunch of them). Pots cleaned, cars loaded, good-byes said, and hopes that next August we'd all amass with our notes and try this again. In the meanwhile, once a month or so, we'll take out a pot, saute some garlic and parsley in olive oil, cook down a bit of wine, and then pour in two jars from this year's enterprise. If we're lucky, it will taste delicious, and take us a bit into the past, and re-establish a tradition for the future.

19 comments:

Lollipop Goldstein said...

Oh my G-d--that looks so damn good. I love that you have this tradition to make it together. I would think it would make it all the more special the nights when you eat it.

loribeth said...

OK, my mouth is seriously watering. Dh is Italian, but his mother died before I ever met her. I have heard all the stories about tomato sauce time, & some of his cousins still do it with their parents, but I have yet to experience it. Most of them tell me I wouldn't want to, it's tedious work & they hated doing it when they were kids. But I'm a stickler for tradition, not to mention Italian cooking...! ; )

Antigone said...

You *are* going to invite us all over for dinner, aren't you?

Kristin (kekis) said...

Some of the best ideas come from a few glasses of wine - and this is definitely one of them. Every jar looks mouth-wateringly delicious! What a wonderful tradition to revive and continue through the generations.

battynurse said...

Wow, that is so cool. My mom and grandma used to can a lot when I was a kid and the last couple of years I've been yearning to try some of it myself. The sauce sounds like a fantastic idea.

Another Dreamer said...

That is so cool, it's nice to have traditions. And those jars look absolutely yummy.

k@lakly said...

simply perfect...and oh so yummy!Bon Appetito:)

Aunt Becky said...

So...uh....I'll be over in the next 15 or so minutes. Thanks for the invite.

Oh wait, you didn't invite me. Good thing I'm rude enough to invite myself. Thanks, Tash.

luna said...

I LOVE this tradition. and how wonderful to revive it for bella. and for you and mr. abf too. yumm!

CLC said...

Very cool tradition. I am free just about any night for dinner :)

mek said...

oh for heaven's sake - you've actually got me contemplating taking up jams and such again. This sauce looks and sounds so so so good. And I do love the sound of all the lids popping down!

sweetsalty kate said...

That looks like cookbook photography.. or MS Living! Gorgeous, and I think I can smell it from here. YUM.

Lisa b said...

my mouth is watering. I am so jealous. I wish my family had food traditions.

You MIL is unbelievable.

Which Box said...

This? Is nice. Really nice. And good idea to be behind the camera. (and nice photos, too!).

Hmm. between you photgraphing and Antigone metalsmithing, I am once again feeling the need for a creative outlet. Photography might be just the thing, provided I get a damn job and can buy a camera.

Because, yes, separation from the in-laws will be crucial. (no, no movement on the inlaw front, just thinking preemptively!).

Kristin said...

What a fantastic tradition. That looks so damned good!

Arian said...

LOL! That looks sooo familiar! I remember being a kid at my great grandmother's and we would all get together (about 15 of us not including the kids). Some would gather from the garden and some would be waiting on the porch with whatever utensils or contraptions we needed to can it. We had this really neat huge pea sheller thingy and metal pans for corn shucking. When my great grandmother's kids reached an age where they couldn't help her keep up the garden we finally had to stop. Their kids all lived too far away for us to keep it going. This summer mom got the bug and headed to Amish country. We have been canning tomatoes for about three weeks now! The first batch didn't seal but this last batch was fantastic! I can't wait for this winter and I know you can't either!

Hennifer said...

That is so lovely! I'm so glad someone, too many glasses of vino or not, thought to reinstate it.

I have none, zilch, zero traditions in my family unless you count being late for everything.

Yummy! I was feeling pretty good about buying tomatoes at the store to make sauce at home rather than buying jarred with all the additives but now I'm not so sure :)

SmartOne said...

Lovely tradition, and so, so good that the family has restarted it. I always enjoy hearing about the timeless things families do to keep the bonds together.

Tomato saucing (is that even a real word?) is a lot more tame and sunshiny than our Easter tradition. We knock the hell out of each other (quite literally) going after plastic eggs in which are candy and money (one with 50 bucks!) that my mom hides. Yes, my sisters, Frank, and I are grown, but ask us if we care. Family traditions are the best.

janis said...

I will take six jars of those, thank you very much!
Thanks for sharing. The pictures, the tradition and the idea of the camera as shield- hmmmmph....