In a converted shed in North Fitzroy, which doubles as the home of chef Andy Logue, friends have gathered on a cool Monday morning to start getting on with the task of washing, cutting, separating and cooking kilos and kilos of fresh tomatoes to be poured into bottles that will keep and be used through the coming winter.
This extracurricular industriousness is the result of a simple conversation between restaurant owners and friends Andy Logue (of North Fitzroy’s Pinotta) and Anthony Scutella (from Scopri in Carlton) on the dying tradition of ‘Tomato Day’ among younger generations of Melbourne’s Italian community. Just a week later, they have gathered friends to create their own.
“Today’s more about following in the traditions of what older Italians do with their tomatoes,” says Logue, wandering through his house. He points to his bathtub by the kitchen. “That’s where we washed them,” he laughs.
After the tomatoes were washed thoroughly, they were cut in half and put through a mechanical mincer that separated the seed and the skin from the pulp. The pulp was placed in a large tub with a tap at the bottom of it and later poured into sterilised bottles.
This is where the production line kicked in: one basil leaf from Scutella’s home basil patch was placed in each bottle, followed by the seasoned tomato pulp. The bottles were sealed and carefully placed in a large metal drum and covered with water.
“It’s taken close to an hour and a half to bring the drum to the boil,” says Logue. “The bottles will cook away and boil for an hour and then sit in the water until the water cools down completely.”
This takes hours and to pass the time, Logue’s chef Dave Curson is preparing a feast as his business partner at Pinotta, Heidi Modra, finishes setting the long table. Norman Latta from Eastern Peake winery has supplied all the wine, John Dench (Dench) has brought the bread, Kirsty and Giorgio from La Latteria have supplied the buffalo mozzarella and there’s marinated pork grilling outside on the barbecue.
After dinner the group will evenly distribute the bottles of tomato and stock their shelves for winter. “The older Italian community have been doing this every year but that tradition is slowly dispersing,” Logue explains. “We think it’s because the younger kids are happy to take the sauce and cook with the sauce but they’re not too keen to make it. It’s a shame.”
With plans to make their Tomato Day bigger and better next year, we can only hope that younger generations of Australians will pick up the baton and run with it, Italian or otherwise.