Sauce Day in my Nonna’s Garage

Every year from around mid-feb to mid-march tomatoes come into season. It’s  a beautiful time when Melbourne fruit shops are overflowing with ripe, blushing tomatoes. Depending on your postcode, you might see Nonnas buying the fruit by the crate-full and lugging it back to their cars. It’s during this small window of tomato-time that Italians in Melbourne are making sauce or ‘sugo’. The sauce is enjoyed year-round on every sort of pasta dish you can imagine.

Nonna washing the bottles which are re-used every year.
Nonna washing the bottles which are re-used every year.

Basically, the process involves cutting up tomatoes and squashing them through a hand-cranked machine to puree (or a motorised machine if you have an enterprising Nonno like I did). The gorgeous, fragrant tomato puree is then funneled into bottles filled with fresh basil. Once the bottles are sealed, they are boiled in a barrel almost as tall as I am and then stored for use in an array of delicious dishes over the coming year.

Tomato sauce day Italian

Sauce day is an annual event in my family. One day a year we meet in my Nonna’s garage, don our hair nets and form a sauce-making production line. It is a beautiful way to spend a day together but it serves an important purpose too. The sauce we make in February or March forms the base of our family meals together for the rest of the year. Nonna’s ricotta gnocchi fade without a good tumble in our homemade sugo. I absolutely will not make a lasagna using anything else.

tomato day Melbourne sauce day

The sauce stations - (closest) my brother Anthony putting the bottle caps on and sealing the bottles (centre) - the bottles alreadly filled with fresh basil are filled with the sauce. (far) - my dad and uncle squashing the tomatoes through the machine
The sauce stations: Closest – my brother Anthony putting the caps on the bottles making sure they are sealed properly before  boiling.  Centre – Louise (my brother’s girlfriend) funnelling the sauce into the bottles already filled with fresh basil. Far – my dad and uncle squashing the tomatoes through the machine.

The sauce is squeezed out through tiny holes in the sauce machine. The skins and seeds are too thick to go through the holes so they are pushed out the other side.

The sauce is pushed out of tiny holes in the machine. The holes are too small for the skins to go through so they are pushed out the other side.




Once the pot is filled with tomato puree the sauce is transferred to a bucket which has a tiny funnel at the bottom for filling the bottles.

Louise filling the bottles single-handedly
Louise filling the bottles single-handedly



My brother puts the lids on the bottles, making sure they are sealed properly. If the bottle tops are slightly loose they will pop off during the boiling process and the sauce will be  lost.



Looking into the barrel
Looking into the barrel

I know this isn’t like my usual Melbourne restaurant posts but I wanted to share some photos I took while making the sauce last week. We spent a wonderful day almost drunk on the aroma of the sweet, fleshy tomatoes. I feel so lucky to have such rich family traditions. I hope you enjoyed the photos!

18 thoughts on “Sauce Day in my Nonna’s Garage

  1. Wow, What an amazing thing to do with your family 🙂 I had a friend in school who’s Nonna had dozens and dozens of homemade sauce under their stairs! Thank you for sharing this post 🙂

    1. That’s fantastic! I always wonder whether these traditions are actually continuing in Italy as well. I have family in small towns in Sicily and I know they do it. I wonder whether it’s still something people do around the cities also. Do you know?

      1. No, in the cities no. But many people living in cities have country houses…I have two friends who do and they have the equipment to make homemade tomato sauce and make it every year. In my town, a very small place, practically everyone makes their own, but even in small towns women are getting tired of it so they prefer to buy tomato sauce.

    2. It makes sense that people are getting tired of it. It really is a big job and you can’t do it on your own.

      I think if the whole family doesn’t get involved then it’s just too hard. My family makes a day of it really. We all get together and use it as a way to catch up and have a nice lunch at my Nonna’s house. Because there are so many of us it really helps share the load. I hope the tradition isn’t lost it really is so nice. I can’t get used to bottled sauce after having had homemade sauce my whole life!

  2. Ciao!

    I remember those hot August days of my childhood when our big Italian family used to gather around the rite of ‘tomato sauce’ in my nonna’s garage and garden.

    I remember us little cousins (six of differente ages) playing Indians around the huge pot where the sauce, bottled, used to be cooked on a big fire.

    I loved washing bottles and jars with salt and vinager… as it was usually pretty hot in those days we used the rite of ‘washing bottles’ as an excuse to spray water on everybody 🙂

    My nonno giving orders to everyone; adults running back and forth; children playing.

    And then, in the Winter time, eating pasta with home-made sauce made us all think back of those hot Summer days.

    Your post moved me, as it made me think of these sweet memories of (gosh) some 35 years ago.

    Grazie and good luck!

    1. Ciao Simona!

      Thank you so much for your lovely comment. I can’t tell you how happy it makes me to hear that this post brought back so many wonderful memories for you – and for others too. I’m glad you enjoyed it. These times with family as so special and it’s so nice to have those memories :).


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