Friday, September 2, 2011
Every year around this time, we have our annual tomato squeezing. Someone I mentioned that to laughed and said it sounded like a taffy pull. Well, not quite, but really, it's almost as much fun. Take eight friends, lots of tomatoes fresh from the garden, add one large Squeezo, and have at it. Each September, we invite some friends to come bringing their tomatoes, and we have a pleasant and amazingly productive evening.
For the uninitiated, a Squeezo is an ingenious hand-operated machine. It clamps to a table (our picnic table, in this case) and has a large hopper on top into which you put the washed tomatoes fresh from the garden. Press down with a wooden mallet, turn the crank, and the skins and seeds come out one side while the lovely tomato puree pours out the other. A tedious job if you're doing it all alone, it becomes a party when friends are invited! We end the work part of the evening with each couple having quarts of sauce ready to take home and be made into juice or soup or spaghetti sauce. And then supper is on the table--by tradition, I never serve anything made with tomatoes!
Gardens being sometimes unpredictable, each year we wonder what the harvest will bring. Sometimes one person supplies most of the tomatoes, sometimes another. Our particular tomato patch suffered this year: the ground was too wet to get the plants in on time, and then a long, hot, dry spell hit just when we were out of town and unable to water. As a result, our contribution will be sparse, but I understand our friends are more bountifully supplied, so I think there will be tomatoes for all. One community in our neighborhood has an annual tomato battle this time of year. All I can think is what a waste, when it can be turned into lovely homemade spaghetti sauce.
My spaghetti sauce recipe comes from my father, who always made the sauce in our house when I was growing up. There's nothing exact about it, since spaghetti sauce is as much by taste as by measuring. Here's how we do it:
Take one 12-quart kettle filled with fresh squeezed tomato puree. Add one cup of sugar, 1/4 cup of salt, one large onion, chopped, 4 large cloves of garlic, pressed, stir together thoroughly, then turn the heat on to medium high. As the sauce begins to heat, add a generous handful each of chopped fresh basil leaves and chopped fresh oregano. (I grow both of these in pots outside the kitchen door, but oregano seems to be trying to take over one of my flowerbeds, as well.) Add 2 bay leaves. (Don't chop the bay leaves, as you'll want to remove them when the cooking is finished.) If you don't have fresh basil and oregano, you can use dried, and be generous with the amounts. Add a pinch of red pepper. Stir thoroughly and taste, adding more spices as needed to bring it to your taste. Bring to a boil and simmer, stirring occasionally, for at least 4-5 hours. You want to let it cook down and thicken a bit. When it's finished simmering, I can mine in jars, using a pressure canner. You can also put it in plastic containers and freeze. I prefer canning, as I feel the flavors meld as it sits. This amount makes about 8 quarts of sauce. When you're ready to use the sauce, it's time to taste again. You can add a few diced fresh tomatoes, if you like that in your sauce. If the sauce seems too acid, add a tiny pinch of baking soda. If you prefer it a bit thicker, add a small can of Italian tomato paste. As I say, it's all in the tasting!