I grew up in New Jersey as part of an Italian American family. As the baby in the family, my best friends were pre-picked and waiting for me when I was born: my cousins. “The club” to me wasn’t one with loud music or dancing, but the Our Lady of Mount Carmel Italian American Society, where my grandpa would wander off to after dinner. And “gravy” in my home was not the brown slop that drowns so many Thanksgiving plates, but tomato sauce, particularly with the addition of any kind of meat product you can fit into the pot simmering on the stove.
When it was time for me to leave the nest, I moved to a city where I could recreate the bubble of family, food, and culture I grew up with and took up residence in the upper floor of an Italian American Society in Hoboken, NJ. Here, I am spoiled by the fresh mozzarella made a block away at Fiore’s Deli. My neighbor Sergio gives me figs, peppers, and cucumbers from his garden; his passion and broken English remind me of my aunt Carmel, who tended her own garden until she was 104 years old. The Sunday suppers I knew as a kid have transitioned seamlessly into my adulthood, since multiple cousins live within a half-mile radius of my apartment. But there’s one event, aside from birthdays and holidays, which annually brings me back to the actual place I grew up: sauce weekend.
For us, sauce weekend begins with loading a dozen bushels of San Marzano tomatoes from Corrado’s in Clifton, NJ into my Uncle Joe’s pickup truck. Some years it’s just my uncle and me, but this year my cousins Nicole and Matt joined. Back home, we wash and halve the tomatoes, then fire up the outside burners and fill a half dozen 15-gallon pots with water and two bushels of tomatoes each. As they boil away, we sanitize dozens of jars and lids (Ball mason jars are our vessels of choice).