My back strained as I bent over the sink, washing a years worth of dust off the old long necks, one dark glass bottle after another. The task seemed endless and the tips of my fingers felt rather prune like. It was a task I couldn't avoid. The annual passata making day had come around once again and I needed as many clean bottles as I could get my hands on. I'd lost a few in the boiling process last year, and because I don't drink beer, I hadn't replaced my cache of broken bottles. I was short a few dozen bottles, but it passata day, I'd have to make do with what I had in store.
Passata is crushed tomatoes, nothing more nothing less. It's been a staple in Italian kitchens for countless generations, and much of my cooking relies on it as the base for slow cooked stews, pasta sauces and breakfast beans.
The Romas are picked ripe, at the end of the growing season, crushed then bottled to ensure the kitchen is in supply throughout the oncoming year. Its liquid summer thats stored in dark glass bottles.
Each year we source boxes of tomatoes on a wholesale level. Growing that many tomatoes myself is not feasible, and it's too risky. If I have a poor tomato growing season, like I've had this year, then I'd be stuffed. So I rely on getting the red gems from commercial growers when the fruit is at it's peak. Each year they've come from a different supplier, but the sauce remains the same. In fact thats what I love about this food chore. Its the same every year. The fine details of the process that is.
This year my children and I were the only people that had been at all our passata days. Everyone else was new. Each year we've welcomed new members into our passata family and to date not one year has had the same people.
As I attached the hand crank tomato machine to the outside table I looked over this most basic of engineering feat with wonder. It had been there every year, it works for just one day a year. It's basic form and solid construction works like a draught horse, it's hardy and reliable. It's beauty is in it's simplicity, a handful of parts that once assembled, transform into something that makes crushing tomatoes an easy task, so much so that you can crush a few hundred kilo in a days work.
We worked well into the afternoon, keeping hydrated with Ray's home made wine, and a few crisp lagers. The process is the same every year, we decant the red sauce into the bottles, caps are secured with a mallet then placed in 44 gallon drums filled with water to be boiled well into the night. In the morning the sealed bottles of tomato are stacked in the larder for a year of storage with the inevitability that one day that bottle is plucked from the shelf, poured into a pot to form the basis of a hearty meal.
I cleaned the machine away, stacked the full sauce bottles in the larder and looked at my efforts and smiled with a little bit of pride. Each bottle represents a meal, and there's almost 100 bottles. Like a squirrel storing provisions for the oncoming winter, we too now have our pile of acorns.