Italian Summer Tradition, Bottling Tomato Sauce
Updated: Sep 28, 2021
Reminiscing on my childhood, I remember one of the prominent Italian family traditions in summer is Bottling Tomato Sauce. In Sicily, it's called ‘Buttigghie’ (bottles). Preserved tomato sauce, with a traditional family recipe passed down for generations. Every family in Italy will have its own signature recipe and secret ingredients.
I grew up running around my grandfather's farming land in Sicily located between the countryside and the sea. They grow olives, almonds, prickly pears, figs, lemons, oranges and filari. Filari is a variety of tomatoes cultivated for cooking. It has an intense red colour and a very distinctive smell of the sun, earth and summer.
This year, given the Covid-19 restrictions I am grateful that I managed to rendezvous with my beloved mother and hometown in Trapani. After two years of being away from Sicily, I miss the smell of the sea, the breeze and the warm Italian summer. This year, my journey back home is inspired by a subject called “His Majesty the Tomato”.
I decided to dive into my childhood memories and share the typical days of my childhood in the warm Sicilian summers - The preparation of homemade tomato sauce.
Summer seasons in Sicily have always been a moment of aggregation and sharing with the family (which is 100 ZII (uncles), 500 friends, acquaintances, neighbours and anyone who are keen to join the harvest period. A time to make new friends and acquaintances which we call COMPARI and CUMPADOS (a translation of Sicilian slang which means friend of friends).
When the tomato season arrives, the streets of Sicily change colour! Trucks and fruit sales sell a bunch of tomatoes for sauce making in cassettes at any time of the day. The memory and smell of the mature tomato spreading through the streets awaken the child in me.
The preparation of tomato sauce takes a long time; during the winter the pots and bottles are collected, purchase the plugs and places in the pantry and the basement. Each member of the family has its role and its precise task, which is repeated year by year. Grandparents, uncles, pro uncles, and cousins gathered during long working days, the laborious process is part of the family bonding.
Preparing tomatoes was a big party for kids. As a child, if your job was to wash tomatoes, you could play with water without being reprimanded. The tomato cutting was the job of grandma and aunts. Men were arming with grinders and pots. In my memory, the last passage, the most important, was gathering the olive trees wood in large bunks to lit the fire.
In my family, we started at dawn with fresh morning to a huge old pot by sunset. The tomato sauce is cooked in a fire to sterilize and seal the natural preservatives. This pot is only used 1 time a year and only for this specific task.
The bottles were wrapped in newspaper paper or old rags and set one by the other in several layers until the keg is reached and fill it with water. Now, all we had to do was wait for the slow cooking process of the sauce and get the bottles ready.
The preparation of tomato bottling in Sicily is a tradition of “strattu” a double concentrate of tomato prepared by sun-dried tomatoes for several days as a key ingredient in the island cooking. The tomato was dried in sun for days and preserved in a typical terracotta vase called “cantareddu’.
Preparing The Tomato Sauce
Wash tomatoes carefully by dipping them in cold water, if you need to rub them with a toothbrush or cloth to remove any ground residue.
Place the tomatoes in a sizeable pot. Light fire and let the tomatoes start to release their vegetation water. Stir occasionally, to allow tomatoes to meet the heat.
Once the tomatoes in the pot turn tender, pour them into a huge drainer and let them drip for at least one hour. Stir it from time to time to allow all tomatoes to throw away vegetation water.
Meanwhile, in a pot full of sterilised boiling water, the glass pots are immersed for as long as it takes.
Place the vegetable in a pot or a big bowl, pour a few ladles of cooked tomatoes puree into the vegetable mix and stir them well. Of course, the more time tomatoes rested and released more water will expand the density of the sauce.
Once you get the tomato sauce, fill the pots, add few basil leaves for each container and seal it well.
Put the bottles wrapped with old cloth in a tank inside a fitted pot, fill with water to cover completely. Place the fire and burn, let it cook medium too low for about 45 to 90 minutes. Once the time has passed, put out the fire and let the bottles cool for half a day in the water. The cool-down process will create a natural vacuum inside the bottle.
Your tomato sauce will be ready to use for the next few months. The flavour, colour and smell will remind you of the summer family tradition each time you open the bottle.
Gattopardo ristorante di mare
Childhood in Sicily by Giovanni Mannino