Passata…passed (sieved) tomatoes..once up a time a laborious task and possibly limited to a small proportion of the tomato crop while the rest would simply have been bottled whole. Nowadays thanks to these lovely stainless steel, easy to clean, effort free machines the kilos and kilos of rich tangy and sweet tomatoes that an average ‘orto’ produces can be transformed into litres and litres of passata.
Locally, people are very conscious of the environmental and personal impact of all the chemical sprays used in mass production of passata for the supermarkets. Added to this, the issues of recycling, trying to reduce packaging and then on top of that the increasing prices in the shops of this staple ingredient and you have some of the prime reasons that families get together for mammouth passata making sessions in their garages, barns and gardens.
The bottles will be the empty ones from last year, thoroughly washed out and ready to be filled and capped and boiled for an hour. This is done in huge oil drums over grapevine wood fires producing a velvety tomato delight that smells and tastes as fresh 10 years down the line as the day they were bottled. Large families will need hundreds to see them through the year. To produce that many tomatoes takes careful attention to detail. One member of the family will have been on peronospora watch, the dreaded water mould that can carry off entire crops of tomatoes. The difference with home grown tomatoes is that it can be treated with organic home mixed sprays of copper and sulphur or even (for the purists) an infusion of equisetum (mares tail). They know EXACTLY what they are getting in every bottle.
So imagine the scene, everyone will be hauled in to help out..several will be sitting over 2 big tubs halving the completely ripened tomatoes. One tub will contain the excess juice which has to be squeezed out to avoid watery passata, the other the squeezed out shells. At the next level there will be the person feeding these tomatoes into the machine and refeeding the sievings back in to extract every available drop from the fruit. The passata will be pouring into another big tub where the next person will be using a jug and funnel to fill the clean bottles leaving a small amount of headspace to avoid explosions on heating! The next person will be capping the bottles (tightly) and the last person will be stacking them into the oildrum, filling it with water and lighting the fire. It all has to be done as quickly as possible because with that amount of sweetness in these delicious sun ripened tomatoes the process of accidental fermentation will not be far behind.
Another job done for the winter and a store cupboard that can cope with whatever the weather has to throw at them.
Now, who fancies pasta al pomodoro for lunch?