From Scratch


It’s bushel after bushel of bright red plum tomatoes, varying in their hues and firmness: some squishy on one side, others dense at the core; deep scarlet like a seductive lipstick or orange-red like a dimming evening sky. It’s three baths placed side by side, each with the lukewarm water that will wash the fruit clean, dunk after dunk, until all the debris and matter are wiped away. It’s hands of friends, washing and slicing, coring and scrubbing, fingers hard at work turning seemingly endless heaps of vermilion produce into softened, broken mash.

Making sauce isn’t about the tomatoes, it’s about enjoying each other’s company. 

We were invited in to a family tradition: making sauce from the raw materials, enough to last the year. Like a well-oiled machine, the process is practiced and coordinated: wash the tomatoes, going from one bath to the next — and a fourth wash if necessary — and then pile them up in laundry baskets lined with old sheets. Then, they are sliced: cored and quartered, salt added to each layer. Giant pots are filled and heated to a boil. Then the cooked-down fruit are strained and the excess water drained. The procedure finished with a very literal well-oiled machine, as the mash is poured in batches into the hopper of an electric tomato mill. Seeds and skins are removed, so all that remains is the thick red sauce that will smother a hundred meals this year.

Lasagna, spaghetti and meatballs, eggplant Parmesan, ratatouille, chili, pizza, enchiladas… Eight hours of hard work to produce more than 120 quarts of tomato sauce from scratch.

“From scratch” actually comes from the world of sports, where the “scratch” was a line dug into the ground to indicate the start of a race or match. Starting “from scratch” means the players or racers started from the same line, receiving no advantages or handicaps.  The phrase evolved to mean “from the beginning” or later, “from nothing.”

Sauce from nothing (except bushels and bushels of scarlet fruit). From the beginning; from the tomatoes themselves. Chad and I are people who appreciate this kind of process. Lately, we have been slowly turning our processed, manufactured world into a life made with our owns hands. We build and we plant and we reap and we weed and we cook and we savor. Bread from flour instead of the store. Pasta from a hand-crank roller instead of a box. Sauce from tomatoes instead of a jar. It’s harder work but it produces sweeter results. At least, it does for us.

It’s amazing to see what our hands can make. It’s amazing to see how the process brings people together, how we laugh and joke and make time fly; how we work together and teach each other; how we feed each other.

We’d never made tomato sauce from scratch before, but we were invited into this family tradition by friends, and we loved it. We loved the process and the teamwork, the time in between each stage where we just talked and laughed, the glass of champagne at the end to celebrate a job well done.  And when our host said it, we knew it was true:  Making sauce isn’t about the tomatoes, it’s about enjoying each other’s company. 

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