Save the sweet summer produce from waste.
Matthew Pember is ready to take over the family sauce-making tradition. Next weekend, his relatives and friends will bring over their tomato crop and renew their annual sugo day. “Making our own tomato sauce has been a tradition ever since I can remember,” he says. “It’s a big event.”
Together with his business partner Fabian Capomolla, Mr Pember runs The Little Veggie Patch Company, which designs and installs and organic backyard vegetable gardens. Both men come from Italian-Australian families. “It’s time for our generation to carry it on, but my Nonna and my parents will be there to lend their expertise.” They’ll convert the season’s ripe tomatoes into sauce that will last through winter, before sitting down to a traditional lunch.
The sauce is simple: boil the tomatoes, remove the skins and seeds (Mr Pember uses a small hand-operated machine), and bottle the pulp. A kilo of tomatoes makes about 750 ml of sauce. “We just add salt and a couple of basil leaves. When you cook the pasta sauce to eat, that’s when you add the oil, garlic and herbs.” The sealed bottles are boiled to stop the sauce fermenting in storage.
“If you look after your plot, this is the most exciting time of year. There’s so much fruit falling off trees – you tend to get a glut of food at the one time, so it’s important to put it to good use,” Mr Pember says.
Even if you’re not a backyard gardener, preserving the summer’s crop brings sweet rewards, according Anna Lohse. She’s the founder of Nanna Technology, a website dedicated to upholding time-honoured skills such as gardening and cooking.
“My garden isn’t well-established yet, so I go to the market and buy cheap fruit and veg in bulk,” she says. “[Recently] I bought boxes of tomatoes, plums, peaches and apricots, and went crazy.” She finished with a battery of bottled fruit, chutneys and jams.
There are many ways to keep your crops, from freezing, bottling and drying, to pickling, salting and juicing. Ms Lohse says first time preservers can’t go wrong with jam. “People think jam is hard, but it’s actually really simple and delicious – it’s basically equal quantities of sugar and fruit. Cook it together until the sugar is dissolved and it gets to a runny, jammy consistency.”
When bottling, you have to be careful with hygiene. One technique is to wash your jars and dry them in a low oven, while bringing the lids to boil in a pot of water. “The rule is to put a hot liquid into hot jars and seal with a hot lid,” she says. “There are all sorts of different ways to do it, but that one is easy and has always worked for me.”
Ms Lohse says preserving means she can eat seasonal fruit and vegetables, but not forgo the best flavours. “In winter I miss some of the produce you can get in summer, so it’s very exciting to open up a jar of peaches in the middle of winter and make a delicious pie or tart.”
She also makes her jams and chutneys for the pure pleasure of taking time over her food. “Preserving is a way for me to slow down and enjoy the produce, and also enjoy a slower life.”