The photo above is of my parents at the completion of their first home. My father built it with his GI low-rate loan. This photo is likely circa 1950.
I found this recipe dated 1990, but I remember my mother cooking spaghetti sauce long before this. I suppose she always went by “feel” with her ingredients, so must have decided to write it down later. This recipe makes a big pot, so have some freezer containers handy. .
There was a time back in the 60s when my mother used the Lawry’s Spaghetti sauce pack to make sauce. You know what I’m talking about – those little packets you can still find in the “packets” section of the store near the canned meats? It must have been a craze back then, all the little packets, and frozen TV dinners, and other “things” to make life easier, that didn’t work out that way. The Lawry’s spaghetti sauce was not bad, but this homemade recipe will knock your socks off.
From 1973 to 1975 I worked as a baker in the kitchen of the college I attended, Emmaus Bible College in Oak Park, a suburb of Chicago. I worked under an Italian head cook named Ruth Calgano (I may have that spelling wrong, sorry). She was a stickler about her red sauce. She taught me that a little sweetness in the sauce makes it better, so she always added honey. She called it her secret ingredient. She also said time and again, never cook the meat in the sauce, you add it after. I can picture her waving her hand at me as she said in heavily accented English, “Don’t cook the meat with the sauce!”
I had never seen this recipe for red sauce until I was looking in the book for something I could cook that wasn’t sweet. So here goes the tomato sauce adventure!
I went to the grocery store to get all fresh herbs because I like to use them instead of the dried. Of all things, my grocery store had just closed due to a power failure. So here I am at home with a bunch of dried herbs, and no celery. However, I find I have dried celery leaves – yes, it’s a thing – and my dried herbs are not too over their use-by date.
10 cups is a whole lot of tomatoes, and I only have six of them. So I will have to use the cans of crushed and diced tomatoes in my pantry. I will cut the added salt by half because tomatoes in the can have added salt, and flavor.
Did you know they add the tomato flavor to the canned tomatoes? It’s true. Here’s a little side story: My political science teacher at the University of Houston told the class one day that because of the way the large tomato farms had developed automated machines to pick the tomatoes, the tomatoes would burst all over the place. So the tomato had to be genetically modified to have a tougher skin so the machines didn’t crush them. These little genetically modified tomato were more square, and had tougher skin to withstand the mass pickings. Unfortunately, they no longer tasted like tomatoes. To this day, even true “heirloom” varieties now have little flavor, though they are getting closer to having flavor again. Even with scientist presently trying to reverse the action of the sixties, tomatoes do not have the rich sweetness I remember the fruit having as I picked them from my grandmother’s garden – though those did tend to bust during the picking. That had nothing to do with the fact that little hands tend to grasp tightly.
Enough with the side story. Here’s a sweet photo of my mother with her grandfather Leask in front of his home in Mason City, Iowa.
Back to the task at hand. I chopped 3 medium sized onions. They are especially pungent and I do cry. While these are sauteing in a tablespoon of good olive oil, I put my celery leaves in water, along with all my dried herbs and garlic. Somehow I think this might reconstitute them. I’m dreaming, but I do it anyway.
To peel the tomatoes I drop them in boiling water and watch carefully until the skin splits. I put them in ice water to stop them continuing to cook. I rub the peel off and chop them up and add them to my 20 oz. of crushed tomatoes in a bowl, which I set aside.
I am not going to use white sugar, sorry Momma. I don’t have any honey either, so I use molasses. Also, I don’t have any chili pepper (I don’t really know what that is.). I use cayenne instead, but only half a teaspoon of it because I want the sauce edible!! The onions are now a nice golden color, so I add my reconstituted mess of herbs. Now it looks like pesto. I add the tomatoes and the other ingredients together in a large pan. It has the consistency of marinara sauce. Very lumpy.
As soon as it is bubbly, I turn the fire to low and put a lid on it. I sit next to it and watch another episode of the Inspector Lynly series on Britbox from the laptop in the kitchen. We live in such an amazing era.
After an hour the liquid has been reduced somewhat. It smells delicious. In order to smooth the sauce out I use an immersion blender. I have found that the immersion blender is something I would rather not do without. That and the rice cooker seem extravagant until you have them and find yourself using them all the time. Besides if you put hot liquid in a blender it will explode. I won’t explain how I know this is true.
I wish you could taste it. This is awesome-sauce – despite all my dried ingredients, and despite no sugar or chili pepper. It made a large amount so I put two thirds of it in freezer containers and into the freezer.
I had some ground sirloin in the fridge – so I sauteed it (in a separate pan, NOT with the sauce!) I cooked some spaghetti and combined the meat with the cooked sauce and added it. Another good recipe from my mom. YUM!
To the right is my mother at twelve. Her school picture.
In honor of mother’s day, the above photo is my mother’s mother. Grandma Hollopeter taken sometime in the 1940s. Perhaps out at the farm in Dunkerton, Iowa. There was no note on the back to tell me this is true or not.
BONUS RECIPE: I also had a package of frozen brussel sprouts. They came in a “steam” bag so I microwaved them. Then I also microwaved some bacon until it was crisp, chopped it up, put it in with the cooked sprouts and added a tablespoon of unsweetened applesauce, and half a cup of heavy whipping cream. It went well with the spaghetti. Try it, you’ll like it.