Tomatoes to the rescue

Angels on Earth|July/Aug 2020

Tomatoes to the rescue
Learning to make my great-grandmother’s sauce saved me in new motherhood
MEG ST-ESPRIT, PITTSBURGH, PENNSYLVANIA

I stood in my father’s garden one late summer evening, watching my three toddlers dig in the dirt with toy bulldozers as the last of the sunlight began to wane. I had driven up to my parents’ house that afternoon in a fit of desperation. My husband was working a double shift, my twins hadn’t napped, and I was one misstep away from a complete breakdown. “Come up,” my mom said. “Let us wear the kids out. Rest for awhile.”

As the day of respite drew to a close, I was thankful but dreading the bedtime routine ahead of me, and wandered along Dad’s once-neat garden rows. The tomato plants had begun to take over their planned zones with an unruly wildness that recalled my housekeeping. I glanced at the sagging, heavy vines.

“Roma tomatoes,” my father said, “the kind for sauce. Remember when your mom used to can sauce?”

I hadn’t thought of it in years, actually. The funnel and crank clamped to the edge of the picnic table, the endless motion of spinning the handle as seeds were separated from pulp. Multiple stockpots simmering for hours as the smell permeated the house with the promise of many comforting Sunday meals. The neat line of jars to be filled with bright red tomato sauce, and the heat bath that would seal them tightly for the winter months. It was a labor of love, a recipe passed from my Italian immigrant great-grandmother down to my grandmother and then my mother.

And that’s where it had stopped.

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July/Aug 2020