It's 0445 and the alarm blares through my parent’s house. Sleep deprivation aside, we drag ourselves out of bed for a 5am roll call for this annual family gathering. So what's the occasion?
5am Roll Call for this annual family gathering of harvesting, bottling and preserving.
Every summer our family returns to its rustic and traditional roots, which many Italian families worldwide participate in. It’s the harvesting, bottling and preserving of the Pomodoro … turning ripe, plump and juicy tomatoes into homemade salsa better known as tomato paste or passata. This wonderfully rich and bonding experience will produce the Tomato Sugo we so commonly use with our pasta dishes.
This morning 3 generations have gathered to commence the ritual of turning these fruits of love into bottles of gold. We giggle as we wonder what the neighbours must think of our early morning activities, with pots of steaming coffee being drunk to keep from falling asleep, cold beer and wine being drunk throughout the day and the constant chatter and laughter filling our make-shift factory floor albeit dad’s garage.
We anticipate and long for the end of the day when mum serves freshly made pasta with today’s succulent homemade tomato salsa. The entire family pitches in, with grandkids stuffing basil leaves into bottles, dad grinding the tomato mill, siblings capping bottles and mum bottling and preserving. Much of the pleasure of this day is derived from bringing generations of family together to gather and feed and of course the bottles of salsa we each get to take home for our personal use.
I declare bias but absolutely nothing beats or resembles the purity and taste of homemade tomato salsa. Store bought salsa simply tastes plastic with the amount of preservatives added. That's why so many families worldwide continue to instil this traditional method of preservation from one generation to the next.
Our family produces enough salsa to last 12 months between 9 family members. The beauty about preserving tomatoes for salsa is that the finished product can last for years if stored correctly in a cool place. The process is easy and cheap.
Tomatoes have generally been quite expensive to buy, particularly the last few years where recent drought and floods have affected tomato harvests. This year we were able to secure 90kg of tomatoes for $140 from a local Adelaide farmer. This quantity will produce approximately 60 litres or 180 x 375ml bottles of salsa.
The initial outlay may seem steep however, a hundred odd kilos of tomatoes, averaged across 4 families and with a production yield that can transform into a year’s supply of salsa, it’s certainly a very cost effective and efficient way of preserving tomatoes.
Of course, you don’t need to work with this volume. A few weeks ago, my mum had 500gm of extremely ripe tomatoes and rather than throw them out decided to turn these into salsa. This yield produced 6 x 375ml bottles.
We have often joked about mum and dad starting their own hobby farm selling Tomato Salsa but in truth we selfishly prefer to reap the flavours and goodness of this simplistic and iconic ritual within our own family circle. Instead we share our family recipe.
90kg of Ripe Tomatoes produced approximately 60-litres of Salsa di Pomodori (Tomato Salsa).
Fresh Basil and salt make up the other ingredients for this Salsa.
Equipment Required Tomato Milling Machine (tomato press)
Bottle Capping Machine
Vats or large pots to preserve the tomato paste
Tomato Miller or Press.
Wash and sterilise bottles in hot water with soda crystals. (We sterilised 200 x 375ml bottles).
Wash the tomatoes in cold water to remove any dirt.
Fill a large pot with water (1/3 of the pot's volume) and bring to the boil.
Add the tomatoes to the boiling water and blanch for approximately 30-45 seconds. It's important to not let the tomatoes overcook.
Blanch the tomatoes.
Scoop the tomatoes out and allow to drain and cool.
Allow the tomatoes to drain and cool.
Place the cooled tomatoes into a tomato milling machine or tomato press. This separates the pulp and skins from the juice. If you don’t have a miller or press, a rustic version is to press the blanched tomatoes through a sieve.
Run the tomatoes through a tomato milling machine or press. Alternately you can use a sieve.
Re-run the leftover skins and pulp through the miller 3 to 4 times to ensure all the liquid is minced out and extracted. You will eventually be left with the skins and seeds which can then be used as compost in the garden.
Add enough salt to the salsa to taste (we used finely ground table salt).
As a guide, for each 20-litres of tomato salsa we added 6 well rounded tablespoons of salt.
Tomato Salsa in all it's freshly made glory.
Wash basil leaves and stuff 2-3 basil leaves into each sterilised bottle.
Using a funnel, fill each bottle with the salsa. Leave a small gap of 2-3cm from the top of each bottle.
Funnel the Salsa into sterilised bottles filled with fresh basil.
Seal the bottles, by capping the bottles.
Seal the salsa, by capping the bottles.
Fill a vat or large pot with water. Place a towel on the bottom of the vat then lay the salsa bottles in the vat until full. The towel will help minimise any breakages.
Place the salsa bottles into a vat or large pot to commence the preservation process.
Bring water to the boil and boil for approximately 45-minutes. Leave the bottles in the pot to cool for 24 hours or if you have excess bottles remove and stand them upright on a table in a cool place. This is a classic method for preserving and bottling all food.
Remove bottled salsa from preserving vats and allow to cool.
Preserved Tomato Salsa will keep for years or can be used immediately.
Rich, delicious and healthy homemade tomato salsa.
You can use the salsa immediately - simply heat and pour over freshly cooked pasta.