Each year a group of family and friends come together when the tomatoes are at their best and we make our year's supply of sugo. Sugo to some, tomato passata to others, I guess I'm still waiting for someone to pull me up on the difference if there is one.
In advance everyone let's me know how many bottles they'll be bringing and of what type. I convert each order to a common size and determine how many kilos of tomatoes we need for the weekend's activities. The tomatoes duly arrive on the Friday afternoon, followed shortly thereafter by family and friends who are arriving for the weekend.
An early(ish) start on the Saturday sees the pulping machines being set up, a team of choppers starting to quarter the tomatoes, someone to make and deliver coffee's all round, a few breakfast treats straight from the oven, and on it goes.
Pulping turns to draining in muslin cloths, often we catch the tomato water to freeze and use for risotto, braises or anything else needing a good tomato stock throughout the year. The poor agapantha's lining the fence spend all year recovering before the next dose of tomato makes the soil more acid than they would like! The drained pulp then goes into pots with a little salt, pepper, rosemary and sugar and we let it cook until the colour and smell is rich and sweet. Meanwhile the bottle team have been popping a garlic clove and basil leaf into each sterilised bottle ready for the hot liquid to be poured in.
Lunch happens about now and it could be an Italian inspired Mortadella roll or a Vietnamese Banh Mi but whichever way, its welcome, its yum and its washed down with a cold beer or glass of good wine. After lunch, bottle capping is under way, a very important moment to ensure we don't have unexpected fermentation and explosions further down the track! After bottling the full bottles go into big drums, come to the boil and sterilise the sauce as well as sealing the caps thoroughly. Whether the day is nearly complete or there's more to do tomorrow, we take an evening to share a feast for dinner, dining on the non-tomato side of the lawn, long into the evening.
Which really brings me to a pretty sad turn of events today! All of this sugo preparation takes place under the cooling and expansive shade of a glorious claret ash in the back yard. Even as the temperature soars in February and March the canopy of shade offers great respite and the leaves can stir a slight but cooling breeze. Sadly the tree was insitu before we resided here and now as it continues to grow the root system is creating havoc with the driveway, the paving and unfortunately the structure of the house. The arborist came today, the options were limited and expensive and it is with great sadness that this seasonal beauty who I admire and love is coming down.
As we undertake sugo next year in the shade of tents and umbrellas I will miss my autumn redhead, the glorious claret ash!