I can trace this recipe to at least the 1930s. My Great-Grandmother Mary Petrocelli-Guglielmo was raising a family of 10 between herself, her husband, and my Grandpa Pete and his seven brothers and sisters. It was The Great Depression and any food that could be grown instead of purchased was preferred. For that reason, my Great Grandma maintained a garden, in place of her yard. Every inch of the yard was dedicated to growing some sort of fruit or vegetable.
Born in Italy, and being that items like tomatoes, garlic, peppers, and onions are easy to grow, one of my Great Grandmother’s signature dishes was home grown sauce. Everything in that sauce was grown right in her garden, and pasta was just flour & egg, so this was an ideal meal during The Great Depression for a family of 10.
Her sauce was exceptional. Between the process she followed and the fresh ingredients she used, her sauce was like nothing else. Quickly, friends and family were clamoring for her to make them a batch.
Part of being Italian is absolutely loving to cook for other people. So Great Grandma Mary obliged every single request to make sauce. Always for free. At most, she would trade for another vegetable that perhaps whomever she was trading with had a large amount of. A few jars of sauce for a few ears of corn, or two jars of sauce for a dozen potatoes- you get the gist.
At first it was easy to keep up with demand, however, when my Grandpa Pete’s brothers and sisters started moving away to get married and start their own families, and when my Great Grandfather died, it was just my Great Grandma Mary and my Grandpa Pete living in that small house on West Adams St. in Conneaut, Ohio. And still, people wanted her sauce.
So my Grandpa Pete decided that it was time to help his mom. She would be out in the barn all day and all night during tomato season working and prepping. Pete quickly learned to pick up where his older sisters had left off. It didn’t take long for him to perfect the recipe.
My Greater Grandmother would eventually pass away, Grandpa Pete would marry my Grandma Lucy and they would have three kids (two boys including my father, Chuck, and one daughter). Grandpa knew how to make Mary’s sauce. It remained a tradition. He made that sauce every Sunday (leftovers on Wednesday) for his family from 1949 until…well he’s 90 years old and hasn’t stopped yet!
In 1983, I was born and I was at Grandpa Pete’s house for sauce most Sundays. At first, all I knew was that my large Italian family met on Sundays and shared this meal together. I didn’t realize how spoiled I was to be around all of these people and to be feasting on this delicious, home grown sauce. All I knew was how much I loved this time on Sundays.
When I was in my early twenty’s, I decided to ask my Grandpa if he would show me how to make the sauce. I didn’t quite realize how rich of a family tradition I had just tapped into. Grandpa was so happy I had asked. No one had ever asked him before. He always thought the recipe would die with him.
Grandpa Pete took me under his wing and my first lesson was in the tomato fields. The rest is history…
Of course, the whole process actually starts much earlier than that. It starts on a nice late summer/early fall day by going out and picking tomatoes. My grandfather and I have been going together for years now. We go to any farm that will allow for people to pick their own tomatoes and we’ll spend a morning out there filling up basket after basket. Careful to pick the brightest red ones, they’re the ripest.
We get our haul home and start chopping. My grandfather, the traditionalist, still cuts every tomato into pieces by hand using a knife. I’m a little more modern. I’ll cut the tomatoes in half and put them in a food processor. It doesn’t matter really, as long as you get those tomatoes chopped up real nice and put them in a kettle on high heat. Now stir, stir, stir, and keep stirring some more. The heat being on high is the best way to cook the tomatoes down but you must be careful to keep stirring or they could burn. Grandpa Pete taught me this.
Now, fresh basil & parsley are added with a pinch salt. At this point it’s pretty delicious, but far from done. This is where, traditionally, my grandpa and I will jar the tomatoes. It’s not really sauce yet- it’s fresh tomatoes, fresh basil, and fresh parsley that if jarred at this precise moment will stay frozen in time- fresh, for up to well over a year. The reason we jar it at this point is so that year-round we can make fresh sauce. Months later, pop one of these jars, and it will be just like it was on that late summer/early fall day. That, in my opinion, is one of the biggest secrets to making great sauce every single Sunday.
Fast forward to when you’ve made the decision to make sauce for the whole family. We sauté our onions, garlic, and peppers in hot olive oil. We add our tomato, basil, parsley jar. Now we sprinkle in a little of this and a little of that (hey, we can’t give EVERY secret away) and we have ourselves a pot of delicious, home grown sauce. Leave that on the stove for a few hours, add your meatballs & sausage, and you’ve got tasty Sunday Sauce ready for your entire crew.