Tuesday, September 1, 2009

Italian Ladies

With all the trouble tomatoes have had this year, it seems more important than ever to save those that have eked through.

I came from the desert, and never had a homegrown tomato in season until adulthood. I wasted no time becoming a tomato snob, unwilling to eat them out of season, grouchy about poor texture and lack of juice. Why bother eating the cardboard versions? (Plus, I had to support the Florida tomato boycott!) But the short tomato season isn't quite enough to satisfy, either.

Historically, I've taken the same lazy approach to preserving tomatoes I take with compost. When it comes to compost, that means throwing everything in a heap. No turning, no layering. I give it a couple years, and it takes care of itself.

My winter tomatoes, so necessary for my winter happiness, have generally come roughly chopped and stewed, skins, seeds, and all, with other chunky sauce veggies. My eggplant, squash, onion, and pepper chunkfest may be the lazy approach, but it thrills me to find it in my freezer in February.

Due to teenage pregnancies, adoptions, wars and the like, I don't really know the ethnicities of my ancestors, if I might be Italian-ish. My mom has theories about our love of garlic and olive skin. This year I'm trying to be a proper Italian in the kitchen: stewing tomatoes, removing the skin and seeds in a mill, and cooking the sauce down until it thickens.

I know the sauce will be worth it, but the hours of cooking my glorious tomatoes to one-twentieth of themselves is setting off a new round of respect for the old Italian ladies who lived in my house, who grew a yard full of tomatoes and cooked them down into sauces in their summer kitchen, my basement. The next time I hear Mamma's ghost whistling while she works downstairs, I'll thaw some super-smooth, way delicious, sauce, so I can whistle her summer tune.

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