Spanning the Generations – The Family Ritual of Jarring Tomato Sauce

“Se non si sa le regole del gioco, non si può giocare” – If you don’t know the rules of the game, you can’t play. A common saying in Italy, this idea can be applied to the rules of jarring tomatoes, because if your family didn’t teach you the tradition, you don’t know how to jar tomatoes.

With the summer season ending, many delicious produce items fade away as the temperamental weather of the fall and the harsh cold of the winter pick them off. Tomato season, for example, begins in June and ends in August. However, through the intricate, yet highly rewarding process of jarring, you can enjoy fresh tomatoes and other fruits and vegetables all year round. The process of jarring and canning is the best way to preserve the taste and the texture of fruits and vegetables, which can last for about one to two years, if stored properly, without ever losing their flavor. Centuries ago, people would employ various methods for food preservation, such as using ice and snow in the winter, as well as storing them in caves with salt or sugar. It was not until the 19th century, when the Europeans realized that they would need to store large amounts of food for their troops that the concept of using jars and metal cans emerged.

The most popular vegetables to jar are tomatoes and peppers, and the most popular fruits are berries, such as blackberries and raspberries, as well as peaches and pears. In Italy, the jarring process is a tradition with very specific steps. In terms of preserving tomatoes, the process must be executed just right to ensure their freshness. Although some suggest that the tomatoes be boiled and then peeled before being jarred, there are others that recommend leaving the skins on and not taking them off until they are ready to be used. At that time, you can put the tomatoes through a “passatutto,” or a machine which sieves them.


Pat Custode, owner of Ralph’s Pizzeria and Ristorante in Nutley, NJ, and brother Joe (behind) with their crates of tomatoes and the final sauce.

For many families, spending part of a weekend making sauce is a late summer ritual that goes back decades and spans the generations. Thank you to our readers who sent in pictures of their sauce-making family event. John Gallo and family of East Hanover, NJ; the DeRosa family of Nutley, Michael Credico of East Hanover and the Custode family of Cedar Grove.

A family may spend the better part of a day cooking and jarring the sauce, but the real work begins the day before.

The process begins by gathering the tomatoes. Since the Gallo family makes enough sauce for an army, they supplement home grown plum tomatoes with ones imported from Italy. On Friday, the 15 bushels of tomatoes and dozens of jars were carefully washed. If you are using a newly purchased container, make sure you wash and sanitize it first. To sanitize a container, wash it with soapy water, rinse and then fill it with cold water and add a small amount of bleach. Rinse, then fill with water to wash the tomatoes. There are many out there that will run their canning jars through the dishwasher to get them sanitized, but depending on the number of jars, this can take a few cycles, but if you plan ahead, you’ll find that it’s less work than washing all of them by hand.

sauce-potsSome will prepare the tomatoes inside on the stove. To create a festive family event, the Gallo family does everything outside. On Saturday, John began by setting up the burners for the tubs of tomatoes and the table for crushing them. Since they were cooking for an army and every army needs a general, at the Gallo’s it is Aunt Maria. Once everything is set up, the washed tomatoes, which have air-dried and were already placed into the galvanized cooking tubs, are carried over to the burners. The tomatoes are heated and quickly begin to breakdown; the tub begins to fill with the juice. Once cooked, it is time for the passatutto – the sieve, to extract the rest of the tomato. John normally uses three presses for each batch, in other words, the tomato pulp is run through three separate times to fully extract every bit of moisture, leaving the skins behind. The number of times that the tomatoes can be sieved may only be two, if they have a high water content. After the last run through the passatutto, you should add a touch of salt to the sauce. Once the sauce have been collected, the jarring process begins. Aunt Maria added homegrown basil to the jars and then the sauce was added. They place the sealed jars in a pot of boiling water, and leave the jars in the water for about half an hour. The jars are removed cooled with a blanket covering and kept at room temperature for three days. The fresh tomato sauce can be used all year long!

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