A Life-Long Lesson
When I was a kid, my mother used to make all sorts of preserves: peaches, pickled beets, apple sauce, dill pickles, hot dog relish, and jams of all kinds (what my kids now call "Grandma Jam"). But it wasn't until graduate school that I decided to follow in the family tradition.
The first De-alienation-From-Your-Labour-Day-Salsa-Collective-Party took place the year before we were married, in 1995, when Trish, my housemate, Rob, and I decided to try our hand at making salsa. We had no idea what we were doing, but like true revolutionaries, we were committed to our vision -- albeit a vision of eating more tortilla chips.
We eagerly loaded up our bike panniers with tomatoes, peppers and onions at the local market, and emboldened with Rob's home-made, chemistry-kit wine -- a fine, week-old vintage we had dubbed "She Never Loved Me Anyway...." -- we proceeded to boil up yogurt tubs full of watery salsa. It was quite tasty, provided that the tortilla chips didn't dissolve when you dipped them.
In time, Trish and I got hitched, shacked up and graduated to making salsa and vegetarian spaghetti sauce in the kitchen of our one-bedroom walk-up. (I distinctly recall scalding my hands trying to retrieve a jar of sauce from a hot water bath with salad tongs). Ouch!
We then introduced canning tomatoes to our new housemates at The Blob, an intentional, faith community we lived in for two years, filling the closets with enough mason jars to survive many a Monster Potluck and the Great Ice Storm of 98. We even ran some canning workshops for members of BUGS, a community garden that we helped to start.
Upon returning from Tanzania in 2002, our marital collection of Mason Jars continued to grow garage sale by garage sale, eventually necessitating purchasing our own house. We continued to experiment in search of the Platonic Form of Primavera Sauce, but no matter what recipe we followed or how long we boiled those darn tomatoes, our pasta sauce invariably left a pool of orange water on your plate that you had to either pour off or slurp up when no one was watching.
Something clearly wasn't working. We needed professional help. It was time to consult a guru.
"I Know a Guy!"
Our neighbour, Ben, an Italian-Canadian, and seems to know everybody in town who can help you out. You no sooner mention that you're thinking of buying something or getting something done on the house and he'll say, "Wait! Don't buy/do that! I know a guy....." .
In this case, the "guys" he knew were his elderly parents. Turns out his folks produce something like 300 jars of pasta sauce each year in their backyard for their families. Ben agreed to set up a tutorial with them and within a week, there we were making sauce with Nono and Nona in their backyard, replete with rabbits, grape vines, a massive pot on a large bunsen burner and a brick-oil-drum fireplace.
We left that day enlightened, emboldened and empowered to make our own perfect pasta sauce, and every year since, it keeps getting better. No slurping required.
The 12 Steps of Divine, Pasta Sauce
Now I'm no guru, but I have learned a thing or two in the past 16 years. Here's a quick photo essay of how we made our sauce today:
We had some last night for dinner. It was pretty good, but there's always room for improvement....Ben!