This past August, I was privileged to take part in one of my sister-in-law’s (SIL) revered family traditions: making tomato sauce. Oh the carnage, the mess, the bloodbath! Of course, I’m talking about all the prep work that goes into making my SIL’s secret family tomato sauce. No worries, SIL. I won’t divulge your mother’s sacred recipe—only what I’ve learned from participating in such a fun, family ritual.
First, like writing a book, making tomato sauce requires a whole lot of preparation! There are the tomato bushels to order and pick up. Get the equipment out. Setting up the equipment and tables. Scheduling family members. Buying tomato paste and spices. I tell you it’s a first-class production!
Second, delegation is the key. I looked at this entire operation through the eyes of an author and thought how genius my SIL is. She stationed certain family members for washing the tomatoes (as a newbie, I got to help my nephew with that job). Other family and drop-by neighbors (poor buggers) were commissioned to cut up the tomatoes into quarters. Then, once a few bushels were filled up with severed tomatoes (I know, sounds horrific), they’re placed in a grinder that separates the skins and seeds from the juice, which flows into a large pot set on a propane burner.
Third, once the pot is full (four fingers from the top—believe me this is a science), the burner is lit, and the tomato juice has to come to a rapid boil.
Fourth, once the juice boils, the secret ingredients must be added. This is my niece’s specialty, and she has this down to an art. And if I spill the beans here, she will hunt me down, and squish me like one of those poor tomatoes. Yikes! After the said ‘secret ingredients’ are in the pot, the tomato juice must be set to boil for 45 minutes.
Fifth, a small pot of tomato juice is scooped out of the large pot after the 45 minutes has expired, then placed into another pot with about two large scoops of tomato paste. This concoction is mixed together and placed back into the large, boiling pot. This is akin to editing, rewriting, editing, and rewriting until the author is happy with the story. It’s the process that solidifies the sauce (or in my case, story).
Sixth, finally comes the jarring. Honestly, it’s like being on a production line. SIL stands ready with a jar while my brother pours the sauce into a one liter jar. She quickly puts a lid on it, turns the jar upside down, and goes on to the next jar until the whole pot is emptied. They usually make about 4 pots which fills 50 jars per pot. Wow, that’s a whole lotta sauce!
The whole tomato sauce ordeal takes about twelve hours (not counting prep time) and is a hell of a lot of work. So the question I pose to you is, was this family tradition worth the time, energy, and effort? YOU BET IT WAS! Not only did we make enough tomato sauce to carry three to four households over the year, but we were TOGETHER the entire day. Other then holidays and celebrations, how often does that happen in this day and age?
Family traditions, no matter what they are comprised of, keep the bloodline going long after the older generation have gone. Part of what has been passed along flows to the next generation, and hopefully the next one, and the next. And that is one of the reasons why I write books—to pass on what I’ve learned and experienced from my family and from my life.
Do you have any long-standing family traditions you participate in? Or have you started a new one? Love to hear your comments. Cheers and thanks for reading my blog!