September is here, bringing me back to my childhood in The Bronx, helping my mother can fresh tomatoes. The first thing she had to do was order the tomatoes from the produce market. She would order a minimum of three bushels which were delivered to our apartment on the fourth floor. We would move the furniture in the living room and place white sheets on the floor. The tomatoes would then be scattered onto the sheets, separating them to ripen. Saturday would arrive, getting up early in the morning, having our breakfast and getting to work. As a young girl, my mother would have me do small tasks like giving her a break when manually turning the handle on the large strainer.
The tomatoes would be prepped and ready to be strained. The tomatoes were hot and were added to this funnel and the strainer would remove the skin and seeds, saving the pulp of the tomatoes. In the meantime, the jars were prepared to be filled and sterilized in a very large pot of boiling water.
Our tomatoes were not cooked and ready to eat. They were prepared to use for a sauce. However, she did make chunky tomatoes in a jar along with fresh basil and garlic. They were ready to add to her recipes that called for fresh chopped tomatoes.
Foods are nostalgic to me, bringing me back to my past. The foods of the holidays cannot be substituted by other memories. Your sense of smell and taste are paramount to your becoming a great cook.
As you grow older and wiser, you assume that all those wonderful foods you are used to having will always be available. The only way that is going to happen is when your learn how to make them. My food memories from my childhood were mainly about my mother cooking with such ease and confidence.
As with any recipes that were handed down from your mother, who is no longer here to advise you on how to make it; it leaves you with a broken heart. My mother never wrote down recipes. Luckily, I had sisters who were there with me. My sister Grace is a wonderful cook. She's not as nostalgic as I am, but she definitely has the tools of re-creating some of my mother's recipes. Like I said, your sense of smell and taste guide you in finding the way to have it taste like you remember. Sometimes, you modify it to your liking, e.g., adding a different seasoning, or spice, but being careful enough not to change the recipe.
I must remind myself that in the past, mom's family did not have certain ingredients, hence creating with what they had into a scrumptuos meal.