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Tomato, Tomahto - An Honourary Italian for A Day

I can remember helping out our Italian neighbours put up their tomatoes when I was really young in exchange for a couple of jars of sauce. I am pretty sure I didn't do much but I remember wishing my own mangia cake family had these sorts of traditions where all the women would gather together and spend the day working and laughing and doing something together that would benefit everyone at the end of the day.

Now, at least 40 years later, I found myself in a garage with Nona, Signora (the next door neighbour), my friend Lydia and her daughter Patricia (she has been my son's classmate since he was 5). My son helped Lydia's kids wash the neighbour's tomatoes and he helped with some of the heavy lifting but it was clear that this was woman's work and they were sent off to play.

I couldn't wait to dive in and felt kind of guilty that my job started out as the person who scrapes the tomato pulp off of the extraction tube thing on the food mill. That was until I realized that I was actually developing blisters after a couple of hours of scraping non stop. Luckily, I got to switch with Patricia for a while and take over the scooping of the tomatoes from the huge tubs into the bowl of the food mill and squishing it all down with the reamer. Of course, I developed different aliments but they were new and exiting ailments!

The other three had started par boiling and processing their 11 bushels of tomatoes at 5am so by the time I arrived at 10am, they had already started cooking one giant vat of sauce. We didn't finish with the food mill until about 3pm, when we finally did my own three bushels.

I didn't understand much of their banter but I could certainly tell when I was doing something right and when I was doing something wrong. You don't need to speak Italian to know when Nona is not happy with your stirring technique or the way you are manning the scraper. I just kept saying the handful of Italian phrases that I know in my head so I would feel like I was joining in as I scraped, stirred, reamed, hauled, lifted and hosed down tomato juiced vessels. I cannot tell you how enamoured I was of their giant pots, their canoe paddle sized wooden spoon and other over sized pee wee herman like cooking utensils!

Nona's water pitcher held the exact amount needed to fill a large jar
It's not complicated work but it's very hard, messy, labour intensive work and it's certainly a job that is made easier by the size of helping hands that pitch in. It felt like it was 45C in that garage but that didn't seem to phase Nona as she sat right beside a bubbling cauldron of sauce and dipped her pitcher in over and over, her arm reaching deeper into the steaming pot as the level dropped lower with each jar filled.

At the end of the day we had done 13 bushels of tomatoes and  I left with 42 big jars of Nona's famous sauce. The sauce was nice but not as nice as when I was given the ultimate compliment when Nona patted my arm and said "you work hard, you good worker"

I just know there has to be something that can be done with all of this skin/seed stuff

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