Tag Archives: Things Italians do

Making the sauce, Italian-style

14 Mar

Melbourne, how did you spend Monday’s public holiday? At the Moomba festival, maybe? Hanging out on a beach? Relaxing at a barbecue? How nice for you. I spent it making sauce in nonna’s backyard. Now, if you’ve never made the sauce before, you might imagine a charming scene with tarantella music and handkerchiefs on heads and ethnic types separating tomatoes from their skins as though such an activity filled them with joy and delight.

Free flowing sauce

If you have made the sauce before, you will know that there’s a lot of whinging about which family members haven’t shown up and who isn’t pulling their weight. Your clothes look like you’ve been hanging out with Dexter and your hands sting from too much contact with acidic tomatoes. It’s a non-unionized work place, there are no occupational health and safety requirements and there are no scheduled breaks, mind you there is no shortage of espresso and panettone either. You might be well caffeinated, but it’s still bloody hard work. You have to wash, squash, bottle, seal and cook 300 bottles of sauce. It takes time and it takes effort and there’s no singing, no dancing and no one with a handkerchief on their head, not even my dad.

The good news is you do get paid. Your immediate labour is rewarded with a big plate of ravioli with the new sauce. Your take home pay is a year’s worth of sauce made with Koo-Wee-Rup tomatoes (thanks Zio Giuseppe!) and Spotswood labour. Missing Moomba, which from all accounts is pretty crap anyway, is clearly a small price to pay.

Tomatoes in boxes

Empty bottles

Washing tomatoes

Squashing tomatoes

Cut tomatoes

Basil for the bottles

Bottle inspection

First sauce of the day

Sauce machine in action

At the sauce table

Sauce for filling

Filling the bottles

Bottles with sauce

Bottle tops

Sealing bottles

Packing bottles

Putting bottles in barrels

Bottles in barrels

Cooking the bottles

Nonna with ravioli



Fig picking with Zio Tony

2 Mar

Not a lot excites my Zio Tony. In fact, as far as I can tell, there are only two things. Making money – which he is very good at – and figs – which he picks from my nonna’s backyard tree with the joy of a peasant who’s just won the lottery. Well, the fig lottery anyway.

My Zio Tony

My job, in all of this, is to hold the ladder steady and put the figs in the bucket. It’s kind of boring, to be honest, and the stupid mosquitoes always treat my legs as an all-you-can-eat buffet, but it does allow me to watch Zio work his way around the fig tree, where I routinely witness a strange but charming transformation. The wheeling, dealing businessman disappears. He is replaced by a giddy farm boy whose level of excitement is directly related to the beauty, and more importantly, ripeness of each fig.

Zio Tony on top of the shed

Zio Tony up the ladder in the fig tree

Uncle Tony in the middle of the fig tree

Handing down figs

It starts calmly enough.

“Ahh, look at this one Tania, this one’s beautiful,” he says as he passes the fig down to me.

“But this one! This one is even better! You have to eat this one now Tania, eat it now!”

“Ohhh, this one’s just sugar! Look! It’s dripping sugar! Eat it now, it won’t be good later Tania, eat it now.”

The more excited he gets, the less English and the more Sicilian dialect falls from his mouth. It translates to the following, more or less:

“Tania, Tania, Tania this is the best fig ever to grace the earth in the history of the world, eat it now, it can’t wait. EAT! EAT!”

Which can’t be true, because a few seconds later, a fig even better than that one miraculously appears. I eat that too because, if someone tells me to eat, I do. Plus I quite like figs. And saying no to  Zio Tony is never a good idea.

Not surprisingly by the end of the 20 minutes I have scarfed down all kinds of figs – from big, fat so-ripe-they’re splitting figs to tiny ones that you can drop into your mouth like a lolly – and now there’s two new big buckets to get through as well…

Not that Zio has come down from the fig tree yet. He is marking out which figs to get next time.

“See this one? It’s yours! On Sunday, it will be perfect! If those bloody birds don’t get there first…”

Fig in the tree


Figs in hand

The fig tree