One morning, in amongst the normal chatter of the birds and chirping of the ciacadas, we could hear voices coming from down the hill, and recognised that they were different from those of the normal olive workers trimming their trees. Very soon it became obvious that the noise was coming from one of our neighbours who has a tiny country villetta on a corner of land adjoining ours. The whole family had gathered for the annual ritual of making tomato passata. Being curious we wandered down to check out what was going on.
We were warmly greeted by the family, all three generations, who were working on the terrace, under the shady pergola of the grape vines.
They were keen to show us the preparations and procedures of the task in hand. We learned that they had ordered and taken delivery of 350 kilos, or three and half quintale, of fresh ripe plum tomatoes.
To make the passata, batches of the tomatoes were first chopped into quarters.
These were added to a large saucepan and cooked for a short time over a wood fire until the tomatoes began to soften and the skins loosened.
Next they were passed through a special type of mincer or masher which separates the pulp from the skins and seeds.
Using a funnel the tomato mixture was then carefully poured into an array of clean beer bottles that had been carefully gathered by the family throughout the year. Then, there was another device for fitting crown caps to all the bottles to seal and make them air-tight. The bottles were than stacked in beer crates.
We walked down into the lower section of their olive grow where the men folk were busy preparing three large empty oil drums, which had been placed on metal frames to allow a large wood fire to be set underneath. In the bottom of each oil drum some old rags had been thrown, upon which the filled beer bottles, some 250 of them in total, we being arranged on their sides in layers, gradually filling up the drums.
A hose-pipe was then used to add water to a level to cover the top layer of bottles. A fire was then lit under the three barrels and the water slowly but steadily brought up to the boil. The passata bottles were then kept in the boiling water for 10 to 15 minutes, and then removed and left to cool.
Meanwhile some of the women folk were busy chopping yet more tomatoes into quarters, which were then being placed into large wide-necked jars, which were to be sealed and boiled in a large container of water in a similar fashion to the passata.
These ancient methods of preserving capture the very essence of summer, allowing tastes and aromas to be released in the darker winter months when the delights of fresh grown juicy tomatoes are a distant memory ….. well until the next summer.
Later that day we were the very happy recipients of three bottles of lovely homemade preserved passata, still warm to the touch, and ready for storage.
All photos by me © Louise Shapcott