The art of making tomato sauce lies in meditation. I stood over a large pot, a seething cauldron of watery, bubbling red. This short essay will guide the reader through the process.

These tomatoes were two weeks late due to a late spring. Tomatoes thrive in hot sunshine and water. Their stalks are weak and must be staked.

Nancy and I worked together. She put fresh ripe tomatoes into a hot water bath for three minutes, then she immersed them in cold water to loosen the skins. She peeled the skins and cut them up. I blended the chunks into a liquid state. We added basil and chopped garlic and poured the mixture into the pot to reduce. Three pourings resulted in the pot three-fourths fill. I turned the heat on high and the watch begins. I am responsible for boiling off the water, and bottling the sauce.

I have committed myself to two hours of watching the pot boils for the evaporation process. This is similar to the way maple syrup is made. I had to stand by, stir the mixture and keep watch.

Everything is set in place. Several quart jars are being sterilized in a large boiling water bath. I have on hand a funnel, special tongs to grab bottle tops, and a scoop. I expected to stay with the sauce for 90 minutes or longer until I decide that the sauce is thick enough to fill the jars.

 

At the start, I noticed foam on the surface of the sauce. As I stirred, I discovered eddy patterns that looked like hurricane clouds from above. I started playing with the spoon. Clockwise swirls when I move the spatula to the left just like Hurricane Sandy or the current Ida. The opposite occurred when I moved the spatula to the right. I was creating northern and southern hemisphere patterns that happen on Earth. This took my mind off the long wait standing in the kitchen waiting for the water to exit the sauce.

The foam subsided and I settled into a meditative routine. As a former science teacher, I like to look for phenomena to explain. Now I’m focusing on the steam coming from the pot. I notice steam from the bubbles as well as stirring. I’m wondering which process releases more steam stirring, or not stirring. I watch the steam to see if there is any difference. After several tries, There doesn’t seem to be a difference. My motive was to speed up the evaporation process.

I’m beginning to feel a difference in the sauce. It is thickening. I also see that the level of the sauce is going down. At this point, I was anticipating the pour, the capping, and leaving the kitchen. Finally I decided that the time had come. Tomatoes contain a lot of water. Removing water concentrates the taste. I tasted a half teaspoon of sauce. “Excellent” I exclaimed. I was tasting sunshine, watering, seedlings, basil, and garlic. I fished out four quart jars and set them up next to the pot. Using the funnel, I began to ladle sauce into the jars. I capped the jars and gently tightened the caps. This is to let some pressure out of the jars in order to produce a good, strong seal. I returned the four jars to the large vat for 15 minutes, fished them out, and tightened the caps.

It was time to stand back and admire my work. I heard the snap of the lids and the contents of the jars cooled causing the caps to respond to the decreasing pressure.

It was time to store the jars to use during the lelate fall and winter months. I imagine the thick, red sauce poured over linguini, glistening, seeping to the pasta, selling the odor, and remembering those two hours standing in front of the stove seemingly watching a pot of sauce that never seems to thicken. And I was able to create model hurricanes and conduct small science experiments while I waited.

Tom Stock

Tom Stock has been involved in the Long Island environmental and outdoor education community for decades.

He has published two books; THE NISSEQUOGUE RIVER: A JOURNEY and HIDDEN AGENDA; A POETRY JOURNEY.He has also published many essays and poems in such journals as the Long Island Forum and The Long Islander.