My eyes are watering and the house smells of onions and tomatoes. I am making Tomato Sauce, a recipe contributed by Mrs. H. D. McKellar to the 1906 Berlin Cook Book. It doesn’t look like this sauce is to be canned but instead would be used with other parts of a meal. Tomato Sauce might seem like a mundane recipe but I need a simple one today. This morning I was scheduled to speak about this project at the Waterloo Wellington Museum and Galleries Network meeting held near Fergus. I planned to arrive early to prepare and had even brought the supplies to make cheese crackers (a recipe from Day 59) but forgot my cell phone. Unfortunately on the way to the meeting, the car broke down, on a country road near West Montrose, making me very late.
However, the situation turned into a positive when I walked up the lane for help and met the kindest woman who let me use her phone …. and then drove me to the meeting! I felt like I was meeting one of the women from this cook book. She’s an energetic 72-year-old who does good works throughout the community.
I chopped tomatoes to get 2 cups (1 pint) firmly packed and cut an onion into fine pieces. Everything went into a saucepan. I put 4 cloves and some fresh parsley in too and turned the heat on low to allow the sauce to simmer for 20 minutes. It burned so I started over in a smaller saucepan and this time I stirred occasionally! I put the cooked sauce into a sieve and using a wooden spoon kept pushing the mixture against the sides of the sieve. The somewhat thin tomato sauce I set aside and discarded the solids. I used the same small sauce pan to melt the butter and then added the flour to make the thickener for the sauce. I managed not to burn it and quickly poured the sieved tomato into the pan and stirred. I seasoned it with salt and pepper and spooned it on some pasta. Time to taste.
Olga Rumpel also known as Mrs. Harry Dale McKellar was of German ancestry while her husband was of Scots background. I keep trying to picture how Mrs. McKellar used this sauce. Is this type of tomato sauce typical of German style foods? They had two maids so perhaps the recipe comes from one of these young women. Did her two young children enjoy Tomato Sauce?
I expected the sauce to be bland but it still has a strong tomato flavour. It reminded me of canned condensed tomato soup both in colour and taste. I can’t imagine home canning this sauce. It wouldn’t keep well at all. Instead I think it was intended to be poured over something like cabbage rolls or macaroni which existed in Berlin in 1906. I’m going to talk more about pasta at a later date.
I didn’t particularly like the sauce alone but once I put it on top of pasta the two blended well. I usually avoid plain tomato spaghetti sauces but this was okay. I thought it was a waste to add onions to the tomatoes and then toss all the solids away but the onion flavour comes through the sauce. Generally I like a chunkier sauce but this smooth sauce was nice on the plain pasta. In fact, since I find plain tomato sauce a bit harsh sometimes, this milder tomato flavour suited me just fine. I added some grated cheese and had an acceptable pasta dinner. I suspect a real Italian nonna (grandmother) would sneer at this sauce since it has thickeners and hasn’t bubbled for hours on the back of the stove. Yet in our modern fast paced world a Tomato Sauce from 1906 bridges the gap between cooking for hours and opening a jar. If you want to make a from scratch sauce but don’t have hours to spend you could start experimenting with this sauce as a starting point.
1 pint chopped tomatoes, measured solid, 1 onion chopped fine, 4 cloves, 1 sprig of parsley, 1 tablespoon butter, 1 heaping teaspoon flour, salt and pepper to taste, stew the tomatoes, onion, cloves and parsley together for twenty minutes and pass through a sieve; in a fresh saucepan melt together the butter and flour, add the strained tomatoes and stir until smooth and thickened, season to taste and simmer for five minutes.