These were not just any tomatoes. They were San Marzano tomatoes, a thin-skinned pear shaped variety grown in the volcanic soil of Mount Vesuvius.
Food researcher Nancy Harmon Jenkins explains that the delicate tomato did not travel well, so a thicker skinned cousin was bred for exportation. The true San Marzano tomato had all but disappeared, when a savvy Italian farmer scoured a seed bank for the real deal. He brought the original back to the region, and now you have the choice between the impostors at your market and the $11 can (plus $15 shipping) from Gustiamo. Kasper chose the latter, which makes my own San Marzano tale slightly more bearable.
As a budding locavore, I would not be spending the $26 dollars to import the perfect tomato from Italy. However, a local version of the San Marzano tomato can be found at the greenmarket.
Last Saturday, as I stroked the taut red skin of one such fruit, the farmer uttered the words I most feared: "Last of the season."
I was already anxious about the end of harvest. It is easy to say goodbye to strawberries when they are followed with cherries, or to cherries once peaches arrive, but we are approaching frightening and unknown territory. Winter. If this was the last of the season, it could mean only one thing: canning.
4lbs Local San Marzano tomatoes - $16.00
1 Ball Blue Book of Preserving - $7.95
6 Ball pint size canning jars - $9.00 (1.50 each)
1 canning jar lifter - $3.95
1 wide mouth canning funnel - $7.99
1 candy thermometer - $19.95
1 plastic food mill - $14.95
additional ingredients - $5.00
Maybe I hadn't thought this one through. This is a recipe for $85 tomato sauce.
The plan was this: roast the tomatoes with olive oil, onions, garlic and herbs, then pass them through a food mill. Finish on the stove with a splash of white wine. It seemed simple, and I was excited to sprinkle herbs over trays of split tomatoes.
I over-roasted the tomatoes. I may have used the wrong variety for the cooking method. I was able to salvage about half. The other half passed reluctantly through the food mill, and yielded a whopping 2 ounces of sauce.
2 ounces of sauce that I will savor. It is, after all, the last of the season.
Now, there must be something around here worth canning!