My childhood memories will always have a special taste and smell for me, every moment knows of something different.
In the summer the little girl knew the pomodori (tomatoes).
I was on vacation with the whole family and my grandmother was in the kitchen; in the morning she went to the market to by the fresh fruit and vegetables of the season. Summer is the time of the pomodori, pomodori San Marzano in particular.
Summer was the time to conserve the pomodori for the winter: peeled and in oil.
The preparation for the pomodori in oil took a long time: the pomodori were cut in half, covered with salt and left to dry in the sun for several days. I loved to eat them before they were completely dry, still a bit sweet but with a layer of salt on top. My mother and grandmother would always scold me when they found me eating them.
Once the pomodori were dry, the salt was scraped off and they were put into boiling water with vinegar, then dried well and put in clean glass jars with garlic, peperoncino, basil and covered with olive oil. The jars were kept in the dark and after a week you could eat them. They are the best with cheese and salami.
The peeled pomodori on the other hand were prepared in late summer when it was cooler. Huge amounts of them would be made and the procedure was long and tedious, but so worthwhile. Often, the entire neighborhood would join together to make them.
To take off the peels, the pomodori were immersed in boiling water for a few minutes, then peeled and the put in sterilized glass jars with a basil leaf.
The jars were individually wrapped in newspaper or old cloths, set tightly together in the bottom of a pot so that they would not move or break, and left to boil in the water for thirty minutes.
This was the most delicate part of the operation as the jars often exploded, and so the children were kept away for fear that they would be cut or burned.
It was also possible to make tomato sauce – passata di pomodori. After the tomatoes were peeled they were passed through a hand operated tomato grinder attached to the table that could also be used as a meat grinder. The passata was then put in jars and boiled like the pomodori pelati.
The preserves were kept in a dark dry place to use during the winter when there were no fresh pomodori and they had a taste and smell a thousand times better than factory made.
Elisabetta De Rosa was born in Naples in 1981; in 2004 she earned her degree in Modern Literature at the University of Naples Federico II with a thesis on the Study of Italian Philology. She teaches the Italian language at a school for foreigners and High School Literature. See all of Elisabetta De Rosa’s Articles on Napoli Unplugged.