Think in taste, appreciate the ordinary

Country side traditions

tomato sauce boiling in a copper pot over a wood fire

Spot the sauce in the publicity

Culinary publicity comes in two ways and often overlaps: countryside purity and female elderly dedication.

Even in Italy itself this is a hard to swallow stereotype, with a uniformed vision of rural life: sloping hills, everlasting summers and happy people around a long table. Fresh as a rose, with her dentures in place, the grandmother brings out the food.

If she’s not wearing black, her jolly husband with a grandchild on his knees will join the unison of appreciation and declaration on how good life can be.

A message to you

Somehow granny doesn’t seem to mind that the toast proposed by her handsome son and his loving wife is not for her, but rather for the tomato sauce, oil, vinegar or wine advertised in the spot.

Granny will smile wide while her family drinks on this revelation and everybody digs in, even the fuzzy little eater of her grandson, and look, that grumpy spinster of her sister is managing a smile! And cut! That same set is later used to advertise incontinent pads and painkillers.

Sampolo 246 - Cultori del Gusto

What a drag

tomato press necessary to make tomato sauceWhy on earth would you make your own tomato sauce if even granny gets it from the store? And did you really think you could prepare a tomato sauce that would please everybody?

This industry-imposed laziness seems to have worked; the dreadful days of making tomato sauce are finally over!

No more carrying crates of ripe tomatoes to the kitchen; no longer do we have to discard rotten tomatoesand processing the fresh ones; halt to pouring boiling sauce through a funnel and crown-capping the brown beer bottles.

Adieu to that wasted summer day, farewell quarrels on who has to stir, so long assembling that darn tomato press, toodle-oo to plain brown beer bottles.

Local tomato sauce tradition

making tomato sauce at home, in the country sideQuite a pity we have to say goodbye to culinary tradition, too; local culinary tradition where every family had its own way of preparing, its own peculiarities, its secret ingredients and probably an enchantment.

And every family believed their sauce was by far the best. Interestingly few people would take advice from their neighbors in the process, and even fewer would admit there existed a better sauce than the one they made.

Innovating techniques came along – the electric tomato press or the P500 crown cap master, both must-haves – while the practice of producing could not be altered.

The almost solemn secrecy combined with the smug superiority made tomato sauce an irreplaceable item in the pantry.

Machinery

Till industry with even more secret ingredients came along that is. Transparent bottles replaced the brown ones, to display the redness of the sauce.

Labels were glued on to remind people it was tomato sauce and had a name, an origin. Screw tops replaced the crown caps and an expiring date was printed underneath the bottle.

Some went so far as to include user instructions. People judged the sauce as very similar to the one they used to make. With no further thinking they stopped doing so: the tyranny of home-made sauce was finally over.

DIY

The intimacy of home-made products and the affinity it brings forth is very powerful. Industry tries to recall this with handwritten labels, rural references and deceiving publicity. There is though nothing as charming as conserving food and ingredients in reused containers, especially when they do not correspond.

You know the jam is home-made when it comes in a recycled mayonnaise jar, the pickles have no label and the tomato sauce comes from a beer bottle. As does the vinegar, oil and wine. Having to hold a bottle to the light and even than mistaking wine for olive oil has a disarming beauty to it. 

Little tomato sauce story

It feels like climbing the stairs to a scaffold, with an enraged crowd uniting in revulsion against sorcery and sacrilege.

Some have brought their rotten tomatoes and aim remarkably well; a man holds up a lanky kid that starts crying when it sees me. I realize the question ‘who do you think you are?’ is directed at me and is strictly rhetorical.

After a short mock trial, sponsored by a tomato sauce producer, and then I am granted some last words. I take a deep breath and dodging rotten tomatoes I say: a recipe

For every kilo of tomatoes

6 leaves of basil

1 diced small onion

1 spoon of olive oil

1/2 teaspoon of sugar

1 teaspoon of salt

Cut the tomatoes in half, sprinkle them with the salt and sugar, then bake them in a hot oven for 15 minutes, till they color brown.
Fry the onion in olive oil till it turns brown, then add the tomatoes and half of the basil. Let it simmer away for at least 30 minutes, frequently stirring to avoid the tomato mash sticks to the bottom. Use a tomato press to juice and boil the lot for another half and hour. Funnel the boiling sauce in washed brown beer bottles in which you have dropped a leaf of basil. Cap the bottle immediately.

Just before the executioner is about to do his duty and the by then angry and especially bored crowd starts cheering, I promise what I am about to say will be truly my last words. The executioner shrugs his shoulders, the crowd sighs.

‘If you don’t have an oven or dread the idea of yet another source of heat on a summer day, you could leave your tomatoes cut in half and sprinkled with sugar and salt in the sun for one day’. That is when a stout woman clambers on the scaffold, yanks the weapon of the executioner and finishes of the job.

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