Some cultural traditions (habits?) are very hard to break. Food as a souvenir is one that stands out in my family. Whenever my parents come to visit from Vancouver they pack their suitcases with barbari bread (it came out of the oven this morning - I told the baker I was visiting my daughter and grandchildren so he threw in a few extra...) pistachios, toot (fresh mulberries), feta cheese, the saffron Mrs. So-And-So just brought back from Iran, cinnamon, tea, etc. Keep in mind that I live in Los Angeles - aka Tehrangeles. All of these things are readily available here. But somehow - this food stowed away in those suitcases, and then eagerly pulled out by the girls in search of goodies for themselves - tastes better than anything I could purchase at my local Persian market. (Those suitcases don't go back empty either - Trader Joe's has yet to open in Canada.)
The very first time my lovely sister-in-law Teresa and my brother Ramin visited us (she was his girlfriend at the time), I knew she was the perfect match for my brother and that she would fit in seamlessly in our family. Within minutes of arriving at our house she zipped open her suitcase and pulled out the most beautiful jar of homemade pure tomato sauce which had survived the trip from Toronto just fine. It also helped that she could fit right in and not be baffled by our loud and passionate kitchen table conversations, comedic hand gesticulations, and of course our passion and love of food. She is Italian after all - Calabrese - from Calabria to be precise. Which also qualifies my Roman-born brother for some good-natured teasing!
Teresa and her family jar tomatoes annually in Toronto. It is an event I have wanted to be a part of but have been unable to find the time. They can't say exactly when it will happen since they are at the mercy of the tomatoes. Which makes purchasing a plane ticket difficult. So this year I asked Teresa if she could virtually walk us through this amazing family tradition. I also asked my professional photographer brother if he could take some pictures. And in typical Ramin fashion he couldn't just snap a few photos - he had to make a film instead. But we'll have to wait for the film as the maestro is busy with other non-pomodori-related projects. In its place, we have some stills from the said film.
Here is Part 1 of my conversation with Teresa:
How long ago did you start your tomato-jarring tradition?
As far back as I can remember, I think my parents and aunts and uncles brought the tradition over from Italy.
How and why did it start?
As the tradition started from Italy, I believe that my parents' generation wanted to maintain it. Also, it was economical and time-saving to have enough sauce for an entire year (and sometimes longer).
Who gets involved? How many people does it take?
Well, it definitely is a team project. How many people you need will depend on how many bushels of tomatoes you have. Usually we make for three or four families. But at the very least you need 3-4 people on the day you actually set aside to make the sauce.
What kind of tomatoes do you use? How many kilos of tomatoes do you use?
We use organic Roma tomatoes. The amount of tomatoes varies per year. This year we made for four families and bought 14 bushels which is about 336 kilos.
Do you buy from a certain grower or farm? Do you change every year?
We have bought our tomatoes from an organic farmer for the past twenty years. It is a local Ontario farmer.
Do you use the hot water bath canning process?
When I was really young I remember my mom and aunts using the hot water bath canning process but it has been a long time since we have done it that way.
How many jars do you produce?
This year we produced 165 1-litre jars.
What do you typically use the jarred tomatoes for?
We make a tomato puree, so it is mainly used for anything you would use tomato sauce for. Pizza, pasta etc. You can make chopped tomato, but my family has not done that for at least 15 years.
Do you see the younger generation, your nieces and nephews, carrying on this tradition?
If you had asked that question a few years ago, I would have said no. But in the past couple of years my niece and nephew who are in their twenties have participated at different times throughout the process, which surprised me and makes very proud that they want to help.
Anything else you would like to share?
This tradition has evolved and changed over the years but the basic elements are still there. It is a wonderful way to pay homage to our parents. You also have incredible tasting and completely natural and organic tomato sauce to feed your family; and for me it is a day spent with family and friends, working but having fun at the same time. I am so glad we still choose to do it.
I've been toying around with the idea of jarring/canning/putting up our own tomatoes for some time now. I guess I need to start looking for and recruiting some like-minded tomato sauce consumers to join me. What do you think? Would you be up for it? Join me and Teresa and her whole family for Part 2 where Teresa will walk us through the actual jarring process...And tell me, do you travel with suitcases full of food?
All photos in this story courtesy of Ramin Deravian copyright 2013