Since mum passed away last August, I had been dreading taking on the mammoth responsibility of continuing her tradition of keeping the family larder full of all sorts of family favourites, including tomato passata. A couple of weeks ago I was in my local fruit and veg shop and stacked high in front of my eyes were boxes of rosy cheeked bottling tomatoes. I couldn't resist them. I was overwhelmed with the feeling that if I didn't just bite the bullet and do it, I would lose the confidence to ever preserve tomatoes without my mum by my side. So, with my tiny car laden with fruit and the perfume of ripe tomatoes, I headed home a little daunted at the task ahead.
I roped in my younger brother and together we agreed to take on the task with gusto. I rifled through mum's cook book box to find her old Fowlers Vaccola recipe book with her hand written notes of tomato preserving days that span the decades. I was able to compare how much she paid for tomatoes in 1987 and what yield she got from every batch.
I raided my cupboards for the many juice bottles my subconscious had kept for just this purpose. The night before our tomato day, I washed and sterilised the bottles and lids. The next day we set about on our quest to deliver a year of pasta sauce perfection by washing and trimming 40kg of tomatoes. Then we cut them in half, put them in our largest pots filled with cold water and slowly brought them to the boil. We then stacked the tomatoes into large colanders and let them drain of water. Once drained, they were ready for pulping through the hand machine. There is something truly delightful about the sound of ruby red pulp plopping into a bucket. The chooks feasted on the skins and seeds left behind by the process - they were happy cluckers that evening!
My mum always put a bit of citric acid, some salt and a generous sprig of basil into every bottle. Rather than mess with tradition, we followed her leadership. That evening, I patiently worked through several shifts of boiling the bottles in the Fowlers Vaccola preserver. We managed to get nearly 15 litres of passata for our efforts which is enough to keep me in pasta sauce heaven for over a year! As I lay in bed that night, rather exhausted from our efforts, I smiled as I drifted away to sleep to the sound of 'pop' 'pop' as the air pressure performed its magic on the bottle lids. I remember mum telling me that she smiled herself to sleep last March, listening to the same sounds. Maybe she spoke to me through those 'pops'. It was all worth it, just for that feeling of having her with me.