Make Time for Tradition, An Heirloom Food Story

For many Italians, the tomato will always be inextricably linked to the family’s annual tomato canning tradition. Every year around Labor Day, our family would gather around bushels of plum tomatoes and get to work.

Tomatoes are an example of the connection between memory and sense of smell. The aroma from the huge stockpots of simmering tomato puree on that one Sunday in September seeps into the walls of my grandma’s basement and kitchen and continually releases that sweet, acidic scent throughout the year. These memories are so fresh, so palpable, so transporting.  

Last year at this time I snapped to the realization that tomato season was almost over and I hadn’t yet sauced and jarred them. More importantly, I hadn’t organized any friends to come over and help, nor had I reserved the very crucial, time-saving food mill from the kitchen tool library. My housemates, including my husband, were gone for the weekend, but I pressed on, by my lonesome, to cut, simmer, sieve, boil, and jar 40 pounds of tomatoes. A few pounds in and I was already sweating. I tried to move quickly and to remember all that needed remembering, but before I knew it, I burned one large pot full of precious, hard-won puree. I almost quit out of sorrow and exhaustion on the spot.

A similar scenario went down a few Easters ago. My family makes passatelle or as it’s lovingly known to us, “worm soup,” to mark the occasion each year. When I was still freshly removed from Ohio and newly planted in Portland, I made this soup and shared it with friends on Easter Sunday. It was lovely. I remember being so glad I’d carved out the time to do it.

For the first time in a long while, I found myself in Ohio with my family. I hadn’t participated in the annual canning with them in years and we realized that we just might have the chance to do it together. We began seeking out bushels of plum tomatoes, three weeks earlier than normal, to see if there was any chance we’d find them. Three days before canning Sunday my stepmom came up victorious. It was on.

Uphold an old tradition or start a new one in your own kitchen.

  • Dust off a recipe from the family archives and make it.
  • Begin keeping a sourdough starter that you can share and pass down.
  • Start or get reacquainted with a preserving technique like canning, drying or pickling.
  • Perfect a recipe and share it with someone you love.