We wake to a beautifully cool and drizzly autumn morning, golden acer leaves cluster on the garden bench and wicker armchair. The first frost is on my mind and I am keen to make the most of our vegetables still on the plant or vine in the vegetable garden. Today I have tomatoes in my sights.
Inspired by Lunch Lady Kate Berry's Lunch Lady versus The World challenges where she puts home cooking up against a commercial mass produced product, I want to make real tomato sauce from scratch for my boys.
The CWA Cookery Book and Household Hints 52nd Edition offers a recipe and I begin by picking 2.5kg of Roma tomatoes. I don't mind tomato skins, but for the purpose of the exercise I want this sauce to succeed in landing a flavour bomb on my boys' tastebuds so that they never ask for commercial tomato sauce again. It is disheartening to spend time in the kitchen cooking a beautiful meal, only to see it drowned in a waterfall of tomato sauce from a plastic bottle. So I wash and score the base of the tomatoes before pacing batches in a boiling water and then chillled water bath before slipping the flesh out of the skins.
Gryff is interested in what I am doing and helps to add spices to the tomatoes. My boys can't stand it when I add peppercorns to a dish (and they crunch down on them so that their mouths are filled with an explosion of heat), so I go the extra mile and place the peppercorns, cloves and bay leaves in a bouquet garni bag. Gryff is puzzled that we are adding the muslin bag to the tomatoes, but I assure him I will fish it out before we taste the tomato sauce.
All afternoon we smell the tomatoes roasting in the oven and pull the roasting pan out occasionally to stir the brew. The fire is going and the rich cooking smells are a comfort on a cold day. After about four hours roasting on a medium heat it's time to remove the bouquet garni bag as promised and refine the tomatoes with a stick blender.
For a bit of fun and to reinforce the point we bottle the tomato sauce in a bottle labelled 100% Homemade. Pleased with ourselves it's time for the litmus test, tasting the 100% Homemade Tomato Sauce on homemade sausage rolls. Gryff gives it the thumbs up and a big smile, while Cormac is more reticent. Diagnosed with Aspergers a few years ago, he's a tough customer, cautious of change, sensitive to food smells and textures, and won't taste the Homemade Tomato Sauce. I'm not disappointed, just pleased that he ate the homemade sausage rolls (which included grated carrot and zucchini). I'm sure I can sneak homemade tomato sauce onto something this week.
For my part I am not normally a fan of tomato sauce, but this brew is a cracker. Best tomato sauce ever.
Tomato Sauce (No. 3), adapted from The CWA Cookery Book and Household Hints 52nd Edition, 2007
Ingredients: 2 1/2kg tomatoes, 15g garlic, 8g whole pepper, 185g sugar, 8g whole spice, 90g salt, 8g cloves, 250ml vinegar, 15g ginger. (These measurements are very specific. You can be more loose with the spices and experiment. I used brown sugar for depth of colour and flavour and added a teaspoon of ground cumin for interest).
Method: Wash and score base of tomatoes. In batches place tomatoes in a bath of boiling, then chilled water to slip flesh out of the skins, then cut up flesh roughly. Tie coarse ingredients in muslin, add garlic, ginger, cumin (optional) sugar and salt and simmer all together for 3-4 hours (I took the advice of Stephanie Alexander for a richer flavoured sauce and roasted my brew in a 160 degrees Celcius oven for 4 hours). Do not add vinegar until nearly cooked. Refine tomato brew with a stick blender and store in jar/s or bottle/s that have been sterilised in a 160 degrees Celcius oven for 20 minutes. Refrigerate after opening. Suitable for freezing in a plastic container. This recipe made enough sauce to fill one large bottle for now, and a medium container to freeze. If you don't have access to such a quantity of tomatoes, reduce the batch or buy tomatoes in bulk when they are in season.
Listen to ABC New England North West's Food Journeys conversation about preserving tomatoes here.