There are many things for which I am grateful but family and friends top the list . As our children have grown-up & partnered, we’ve been delighted that our list of family and friends has extended & to have become part of the lives of their partners families and them part of our life. Given that between us we have 5 adult children, we now have quite an extended ‘family’ and from different cultural backgrounds with rich food traditions. Recently we were privileged to participate in one of these, welcome to ‘Tomato Day!’.
Our hosts Allan & Rita celebrate several Italian food traditions, making sausages and tomato passata to name a few, and I have no doubt their sons will continue these traditions with their families. Raised in Carlton (Victoria), Rita’s parents emigrated from Abruzzo and brought these traditions with them. Rita participated in her Italian food traditions from an early age, & with her husband has continued these with her children. Just look at this fabulous photo Rita shared with me of her father crushing grapes for wine in a hand-made wooden tub in their Carlton back yard @ 1965 whilst she looks on. The joy on the faces of her parents is timeless and leaves me in no doubt that it is food traditions which keeps cultural heritage alive & which binds us to what has gone before.
Fast forward to 2018 and Tomato Day, which has been in the planning for 12 months, has finally arrived – a tick for my bucket list 😊. Friends & family start arriving around 7.30am for a hearty and generous Sunday breakfast which will sustain us for the work ahead. Being in Melbourne, rather than in my home town of Sydney, means uncharacteristically I don’t contribute food wise like dear friends who bring beautiful freshly baked buttery croissants to add to what Rita & Allan provide. My contribution for the day will need to centre on helping out as much as possible at the various tomato ‘stations’ and assisting with the washing up & cleaning during the day. Breakfast comes and goes with the usual banter and then the 12 or so of us get down to it…
Everyone but Aron and I know the process, but we take instruction and catch on quickly. The bottles are already sterilized, loaded in crates and ready to be filled. The tomatoes are first placed in a tub of water to ensure they are clean from any residue/dirt & everyone takes a colander full and starts cutting, and cutting, and cutting…. There is lots of chatting and laughter and a battle of the airwaves ensues… the ‘oldies’ music wins out 😏. Soon there are enough cut tomatoes to start passing them through the mincer & just like that the first jewel red passata emerges. The skins are passed through the machine twice more to ensure maximum extraction and are then discarded. Salt is added, and the bottles are filled using a clever little bucket with tap gadget, a relatively new innovation replacing the old funnel and ladle method. I am grateful for the ‘improvement’ as I spend most of my time at the filling station. At first the basil is put in the bottles after being filled, but I change the process figuring putting the basil in first may improve the flavour infusion.
We have a lot of tomatoes (12 crates of @ 7kgs/crate) but we all work together and by 3pm all the bottles are filled and ready for boiling. The bottles are placed in the custom-made drums filled with water, the fires are lit and the drums are left to come to the boil. We are all a bit messy when the cleaning starts, but again, many hands make light of the work.
Whilst work continues downstairs on the 2018 ‘vintage’, a few move up stairs to assist Allan in the kitchen. Using the 2017 passata vintage, Allan works his magic in the kitchen making a ragu, cooked low and slow, which includes two types of home-made Italian sausages, homemade meat-balls, shoulder of lamb & beef. The smell from downstairs is intoxicating and promising of great things to come. When we all gather together later that evening the finished meal doesn’t disappoint. We sit down, forks in hand at the ready, around a traditional Polenta Board to enjoy another loud dinner together, full of great food, friendship, laughter, music, stories and riddles which take us late into the night. Of special mention are the two spectacular crepe cakes, ’cause one is never enough’, made by our resident desert chef, Sammy, who always creates beautiful and delicious deserts, one is mascarpone and raspberry and the other is chocolate cream.
Apparently, part of the process is the next day laying out the ‘dead ones’ which don’t make it through the process. I am pleased to say that we had no deaths in the 2018 vintage, although as per Allan, two ended up in coma’s due to failed lids. The 2018 vintage was done and stacked for the year ahead. 🍅 🇮🇹 💙
Bon Appetit & happy cooking!