As I walked down Lou’s driveway, feet sloshing through a soggy mixture of splattered sauce, seeds and skins, I feel no pride. It was almost as if I was stealing the 20 quarts of tomato sauce and big bag filled with dozens of plum tomatoes I carried to my car. My pristine sundress, without a single splatter of red tomato guts, revealed it all: positive proof that I missed Lou’s tomato processing tradition, a grueling day transforming 6 crates of tomatoes into velvety smooth sauce. Yet, I was taking home more than I did last year when I was there to help.
I ambled away from Lou’s garage, which now looked more like a gruesome crime scene than a tomato processing plant, in the walk of shame. I should have made the sauce with Lou and I knew it. Lou heckled me, grumbling that I owed him big this time, as he practically threw the 20 quarts of sweet summer sauce at me, a gift far better than any piece of jewelry for a girl like me. His freezers were jammed already and he had nowhere to put it. “Take it” he kept saying, “Take it.”
And so I did.
I had been excited to make tomato sauce this summer with Lou, as I did last year and I had anticipated a fun-filled end-of-summer extravaganza. It’s a big production for Lou, who creates an impressive makeshift processing plant in his backyard garage. It’s a huge undertaking that requires (and appreciates) many hands. But with my kids at home all summer long, camp, excursions to the beach and various activities running me ragged, it hasn’t been easy to find the time for projects, let alone coordinating multiple schedules for cooking with friends.
So that’s why I couldn’t make sauce with Lou. I wanted to. Really I did.
But Lou acts fast when he gets something in his head and I didn’t have enough time to arrange plans for the kids. And as soon as Lou found his ideal tomatoes in Paterson, he had a mere 48 hours to begin processing, too little notice for me so I had no choice but to decline his invitation. Mid-way into Lou’s tomato sauce making, I got a desperate text:
“In trouble here. too many tomatoes. going for more containers. I have plenty for you but will need your help at sometime. please call for a discussion. TY” This text was followed by “call me” and then another one word: “Chaos.”
So I called only to learn that I was way too late and that I needed to come down for my 20 quarts of sauce. He wasn’t pleased with me but I did have a pretty good excuse — my family room ceiling was leaking inside as it rained heavily outside. I was having my own chaos and with a gang of kids in the house, I had my hands tied! Of course I would have rather made sauce with Lou than dealt with my own at-home disasters. But I didn’t.
In the months to come, when I defrost some of Lou’s sauce (which I have previously termed “Tomato Gold”), instead of being reminded of the sauce splattering moments making it together, I will think the opposite: I wasn’t there. Lou understands the vitality of the process of making something and gets how much I savor each and every moment and then reliving it with each future bite. So with his gift, I now have 20 quarts of sauce to remind me that I wasn’t there this time around. That’s 20 meals to regret my absence in Lou’s day. It’s a bitter sweet gift but life is full of opportunity costs for us moms and sometimes we have to give up something we really want to do.
Roasting tomatoes adds another dimension to the taste of a homemade sauce. Once your tomatoes are roasted, you can keep them in the refrigerator (or even freeze) and use to create a quick sauce with some additional olive oil, garlic and fresh basil to serve atop pasta. Because I don’t have the time (or interest) to slow roast in the summertime, I cranked up my oven to speed up the process. However, I think they taste pretty much the same as if they were slow roasted.
10 garlic cloves, skins removed and mashed
1 teaspoon of kosher salt
4 tablespoons of extra virgin olive oil
Pre-heat the oven to 400 degrees. Line a baking sheet with aluminum foil. Toss the tomatoes in olive oil, slice in half and lay cut side up on aluminum foil. Distribute the garlic and sprinkle tomatoes with salt. Roast for about an hour until the tomatoes start to brown. Remove from the oven. Once cool, you can remove the skins from the tomatoes if you wish.