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“Tomato Season: An Interview with Viola Di Nino” ~ by Alessia Di Nino

Tomato Season

Tomato Season at the Di Nino Family from the Private Collection of Alessia Di Nino.

An Interview with Viola Di Nino

October 8, 2017

The process of making tomatoes, as Italians call it, is an annual event, that unites Italian families. Italians are quite big on the ideas of family bonding, and this is just another way of bringing the family together. The tradition of making tomatoes started in the small towns of Italy and was carried over to Canada when these Italians immigrated.

However, the process of making tomatoes from Italy to Canada, was the same but did have some key differences. For example, in Italy, they would cut the tomatoes in half, bake them in the oven, puree the tomatoes, and kept in one big crock-pot-type container. Every time they needed some tomatoes for sauce, they would take a few spoons from the container. They would also use pop bottles to hold the tomatoes in the later years; they washed bottles by going to the end of the road, filling the bottle with gravel from the street and water and shaking it in the bottle to clean them between each use. They also used a hand crank machine, to physically turn all the tomatoes to get the juice out of it. Now when the immigrants went to Canada, they did not start the traditions of making tomatoes right away. This is because many Italians were still being stereotyped by Canadians, and it was hard to come across the materials that they needed. However, as the Italian population began to grow, the traditions began to start up again. Once Italian shops started to develop, these immigrants had a place to get the things that they needed for the tomato season and other customs. As time went on, the development of motorized machines changed the way of canning tomatoes. The invention of motorized tomato machines made the process of making tomatoes much faster and easier. However, because this was new technology, it was extremely expensive, making it hard for immigrants to come by, be-because they did not have the money for it.

Nonna Viola explains: When arriving in Canada in the 1950’s, the process of tomatoes did not begin right away as Italians were still seen as outcasts in society. Most families started tomatoes in the 1970’s once stereotyping had gone down, and Italian communities were established. The Italian communities would assemble to work on tomatoes together with their family and friends to work together to make the process run smoothly. Started as a big community, as families grew bigger, the Italians began to separate into their families and teach the traditions to them. They would buy bushels, wash, slice, run through machine, fill jars (with tomatoes and basil), boil them and store them in the cantinas for future use. The process of making tomatoes was a family effort, which allowed for bonding.

“The best part of making tomatoes was having access to fresh sauce, while also knowing exactly what goes into your food. The worst part of making tomatoes, was the cleanup. There were tomatoes everywhere… on the ground, on your clothes and in your hair. You would smell like tomatoes for days,” said Viola Di Nino (2017).

A Cultural Tradition

For Italians there are five seasons in a year: Spring, summer, fall, winter and tomatoes. Tomato season is the most beautiful season of all, bringing together family and friends to make “tomatoes” that will be used throughout the year, for that perfect plate of pasta. Even though times have changed from when Italians first immigrated to Canada, and it is much easier to buy a jar of sauce from the store than it is to work through the tomato making process, the tradition is still very much alive, continuing from generation to generation to keep the Italian roots and heritage alive. Making tomatoes is a beautiful thing.

by Alessia Di Nino

Brock University, 2017