“Hi Teresa, I figured you would know where I can get bushels of tomatoes.” “Oh sorry Teresa, we can’t! We are swimming in tomatoes here!” “Hello Teresa, I have brought you a bushel of tomatoes.” So.much talk of tomatoes!! What can I say it’s tomato season in the Hudson Valley!
I always teased my kids and told them I am just not any ordinary mamma but a pasta mamma! To this day I still can’t get this vision that I have of a pasta mamma out of my head! I am not quite sure how old I was, but one summer in Italy I came across what I believed was a pasta mamma. Thank goodness it wasn’t anybody I was related to. While we were on our way to visit my aunt, we came across a neighbor. The neighbor upon seeing my dad, ran over screaming in her Neapolitan dialect to give my dad this really exaggerated big hug. It wasn’t because she was short, robust and splattered with tomato sauce that I took notice, but it was her apron! Her apron had two conspicuously placed well-worn patches across her chest! Mind you the apron was intact except for those two patches. While my parents were all smiles greeting this woman, my brother and I just stood there looking on with puzzled looks on our faces. Why this well-endowed woman would want to bring more attention to herself by wearing that apron was beyond us! Unabashed she stood so proud wearing that remarkable apron bragging about the number of jars of tomatoes she had just canned.
I keep thinking about that woman lately every time the subject of tomatoes comes up in discussions this past week. The Hudson Valley farmers as I am sure many of the farmers from where you are from are also busy harvesting tomatoes. If you don’t have the luxury of picking your tomatoes out of your own garden, I hope you are all taking advantage of those beautiful vine ripened tomatoes from your local farmers. I just called my co-packer who makes the 825 MAIN Marinara Sauce to order more pallets. They work with the local farms in our area. They told me, “Teresa, have a little patience for we are swimming in tomatoes and we are busy!”.
I remember when I was a little girl, my mom, her five sisters and Nonna, would be gathered together wearing aprons (thankfully with no patches across their chests) and their hair tied up in kerchiefs at this time of the year. My grandfather would start the fire in the pit while all the girls were busy preparing the tomatoes. Such a happy chore with all of them laughing and singing while sorting, cutting, straining, cooking, pouring, and jarring. I remember hearing the joyful pop of the lids as the sauce cooled and witnessing the satisfaction on everyone’s faces.
In Italy, my father’s sisters would do the same thing. There were times that we would be in Italy during tomato harvest and the canning of the delicious tomatoes. The tomatoes were so different in Monte di Procida. The Mediterranean sun is strong and growing tomatoes in the volcanic soil yields the sweetest juiciest tomatoes! All my aunts had their own wood fired ovens to bake bread, pizza and to seal all of those jars of tomatoes. The ovens were located in cantinas and a whole side of the building was designated for the ovens made of blocks and concrete. The cantinas were free standing buildings away from the house. My Zia Gilda would bake so much bread that she even had customers! A summer treat was pizza! The pizza that came out of those wood fired ovens was incomparable to anything I have ever eaten. The crust had a touch of char covered with a few really ripe garden tomatoes, a basil leaf, sea salt, extra virgin olive oil and fresh mozzarella. The pizza was unbelievably delicious! Mind you, my Zia would only make the pizza with the extra dough left over from the bread. She never thought much of this pizza. I couldn’t understand why she wouldn’t make more of it! But she would often tell me that bread was her first priority. The pizza was just a little snack. I am still searching for a comparable pizza! The typical NY pizza we are accustomed to is not the same.
In a town not too far from my dad’s town of Monte di Procida is the ancient town of Baia where Julius Caesar had a villa there (The Castello Aragonese di Baia is open to the public now with museums). The mineral springs in Baia attracted the elite during the Roman Empire. Most of the ancient town is under water now as a result from a volcanic eruption. A couple of years ago my brother, sister and I met in Italy. We decided to go to a historic pizzeria in Baia. What was unusual about this pizzeria was that it was located inside the town bread oven. Yes, you read right! It was a bread oven so huge that there was a pizzeria built inside of it. During the Roman Empire it was used to bake bread for the whole town. We sat inside of this huge hollowed out oven and ate pizza and imagined Caesar eating pizza here.
Only joking about Caesar eating pizza. The Pizza Margherita became famous in 1889, 28 years after the unification of Italy. History has it that when Queen Margherita of Savoy, the wife of King Umberto I, visited Naples, a chef and his wife created a pizza resembling the colors of the Italian flag, tomato, mozzarella and basil! To this day it is still called Pizza Margherita!
Sadly, I don’t own a wood fired oven. Using the garden cherry tomatoes, the pizza comes out pretty good minus the char. I have that wood fired oven on my bucket list. I did get Jim, my husband, to make me a fire pit, though! So I am getting closer.
I hope you enjoy the following pizza recipe as much as as my family and I do. I used the delicious tomatoes from the garden! No worries if you don’t have a garden, just be sure to visit farm markets to get those delicious tomatoes that are all the rage. There is nothing like fresh vine ripened tomatoes. Even though I am in the business of selling tomato sauce, I won’t lie to you there is nothing like a fresh tomato right off the vine. Don’t get confused with those grocery store, hot house tomatoes, though! I also have available the jarred 825 MAIN Pizza Margherita Sauce for those months of the year when we can’t get those super delicious garden tomatoes. Even tough I don’t can my own tomatoes, I am still continuing the family tradition overseeing the jarring of hundreds of jars of tomato sauce so that I can bring you authentic Neapolitan tomato sauces. As I was writing this story I got a call from a customer who wanted to know where she can get bushels of tomatoes. She said if that if anyone would have that information she knew she could count on me. I thought to myself, “What does she think I am? A pasta mamma?”
See our Pizza Margherita recipe.