Jersey Devil (1/2 pound in weight) My favorite this year!
August is the busiest time of the year for tomato packers. My grandfather’s packing plant in Santa Clara, Gangi Brother’s Tomato Packing, would run 24/7 for weeks on end. As a kid, it seemed that tomato packing monopolized the whole summer. My father worked at the plant too. He ran the boiler room.
Cannery under construction. Circa 1942. My great grandfather Antonio Gangi in front of building with his hands on his hips.
During the summer months, my mother would take my brother and I to visit my father since he worked such long odd hours and we wouldn’t see him much. We always stopped in to see my grandfather too. My grandfather would show us around the plant before we would drop in on my dad in his steamy hot caldron of what was the boiler room. I remember we would first visit where the trucks would pull up and be weighed. After weighing the trucks loaded with tomatoes, the fork lift drivers would quickly off-load the wooden “lugs” or crates of tomatoes, where they would then be transported into the warehouse for washing and sorting first and then the processing procedure would begin immediately. Once we entered the warehouse the real excitement began. The sites, smell, intense heat, steam, sounds, and constant action were quite impressionable for a young child. There were many people scurrying around to attend to the tomatoes. Women with netted hair caps and uniforms would be standing at conveyor belts of fast moving tomatoes quickly working to pick over the newly arrived tomatoes and eliminate any “undesirables.”
The four Gangi Brothers from left to right: John, Valentino (my grandfather), Red, and Peter. Circa 1940s
My favorite area was where the hot processed tomato cans would come out of the large canning processors on conveyor belts. The conveyor belts traveled what seemed like miles and miles through the internal space of the warehouse. It reminded me of one of those games where you place a marble at the top of the shute and watch it make its way through the zig-zagged maze until it reached the bottom and exits to its freedom. The conveyor belts carrying the cans traveled up, down, across, high, and low. It was fun to watch the cans and visually follow them through their journey. The sound of the traveling cans was excessively loud and I remember having to cover my ears and yell when speaking to others. For a kid…it was exhilarating!
Needless to say, August always brings those precious childhood memories, and the people that shared them with me, rushing back. I have been growing tomatoes most of my adult life. My obsession with growing tomatoes has grown in the past 10 years to where I am canning my tomatoes to enjoy them throughout the other tomatoless months (did I just make up a word!).
Just like the rest of you urban tomato farmers…I have been harvesting oodles and oodles of tomatoes this month. I have been canning with my friend Martha at my house. She brings over her mega pounds of tomatoes and we join forces to can together which makes the canning process fun and sharing all the work tolerable. We split up the canned goodies at the end of our workday and then I happily collapse on the couch with a glass of wine. Not such a bad day!
We have made plain tomato sauce, marinara, tomato jam, and pizza sauce so far. There will be another day of canning very soon by the looks of my tomato plants. I have visions of trying to make barbeque sauce, ketchup, and salsa before this season is over. I will let you know if I complete this task!
My previous Delicious Tomato Memories article featured beef steak and classic tomatoes. This article will be focusing on my paste tomatoes, which are the best tomatoes for making sauce and many other condiments that use tomatoes. Paste tomatoes are smaller and are usually an elongated pear shape, have more meat to them, and less seeds and seed jell.
This year I planted five paste tomato plant varieties:
Amish: Sweet flavor, firm large fruit, great for canning for stewed and sauce. Good for salad and salsa because they do not have much juice.
Heidi: Prolific producer of small 2.5 inch fruit. Rich tomato flavor. Great for canning.
Speckled Roman: Georgeous 3” wide by 5” long fruit with orange and yellow stripes. The inside is deep red. Meaty, great taste. Great for eating fresh in salads or making sauce.
Jersey Devil: Beautiful 5” long deep red fruit. Prolific plant. Very meaty and dense flesh. Excellent for canning! My personal favorite this year!
San Marzano: Prolific producer of 3.5” long fruit. Very meaty, great for canning and sauce. A favorite in Italy!
(top) Amish (bottom) Heidi
(top) Jersey Devil (bottom) San Marzano
This year I have stewed and roasted my tomatoes to then make the various tomato sauces that I have made. It is quite easy to make tomato sauce with the il Passatutto Velox (tomato press) that I purchased at Williams Sonoma for $25.00 years ago, which they still sell for the same price. I love this little machine! It makes beautiful sauce with great ease. There is no need to peel the tomatoes…the machine both skins and seeds the tomatoes for you!
If you are stewing the tomatoes:
Wash and cut in half your tomatoes and place them into a large pot on the stove over medium-high heat. Add a quarter of a cup of water to keep the bottom of the pot from burning. The tomatoes will eventually release their juice. During the stewing process, ladle out the juice and discard (or keep for another purpose). After stewing for about 30-45 minutes, remove from heat and drain. Attach the tomato press to the kitchen counter and process the hot tomatoes through the press. You will need one container to catch the sauce and another container to catch the skins and seed pulp. The skin and seed pulp can be passed through the press two more times for more sauce.
If you are roasting the tomatoes:
Wash tomatoes and place them in a shallow baking dish and place them in the oven at 400 degrees for one hour. The tomatoes will shrivel up and reduce in size. There will not be much liquid so you will not have to discard the juice. Once they have finished roasting, process the tomatoes in the tomato press. You will need one container to catch the sauce and another container to catch the skins and seed pulp. The skins and seed pulp can be passed through the press two more times for more sauce.
This year, all of the paste tomatoes were new to me and my garden, except for the Speckled Roman. I was astonished how large the Amish and Jersey Devil grew to be. The Jersey Devil weighed approximately a half a pound each. And the Amish weighed approximately two thirds of a pound each. I was most amused by the appearance of the Jersey Devil…you can see where it gets its name. The inside tomato flesh is deep red burgundy, solid meat, very little seed jell, and possessed an intense tomato flavor. I will most definitely be growing this tomato again year after year.
Amish (2/3 of a pound in weight)
My mother taught me how to make my tomato meat sauce. Her mother taught her. And her mother taught her. And so goes the history of this recipe, which I am now passing on to you. I am beyond grateful to my family for the beautiful traditions that make me who I am.
May the end of this fabulous summer for you and your family be filled with many delicious tomato dishes and sweet memories.
Tomato Meat Sauce aka….Ragu’
2.5 pounds of ground beef
1 pound of ground pork
10 pounds of paste tomatoes made into sauce (instructions above)
or 2 one-gallon cans of solid packed whole tomatoes processed into sauce with a food mill
or 2 one-gallon cans of tomato sauce
2 16 oz. cans of tomato puree
3 small cans of tomato paste
2 medium onions, finely chopped
8 cloves of garlic, minced
extra virgin olive oil
2 pounds of fresh sliced mushrooms, either white or brown
salt and pepper to taste
½ cup fresh chopped herbs of your choice (basil, oregano, thyme, sage, rosemary, etc.)
In a deep pot over medium heat, sauté the onion with the olive oil for 10 minutes. Add the garlic and sauté for 5 more minutes stirring frequently. Add all the ground meat to brown. Meanwhile in a separate sauté pan over medium high heat, add 3 tablespoons of olive oil. Once oil is hot add the mushrooms and sauté covered for a few minutes to help the mushrooms release their water. Remove lid once liquid has released and continue sautéing until the mushrooms are completely sautéed. Turn off heat and leave them in the pan. Once the meat is completely browned add all tomato products, mushrooms, salt and pepper, and herbs. Reduce heat to medium until pot begins to bubble then reduce heat again to low. Continue simmering for 4 hours. Periodically stir the sauce thoroughly to make sure it is not burning on the bottom of the pot. If it is bubbling to high then lower the heat even further. Taste the sauce occasionally to see if it needs more salt, pepper, or herbs.
This recipe makes a lot of tomato meat sauce. I place it in smaller containers and freeze it for future dinners.