Sunday, April 29, 2012

La Dolce Salsa

Cross-posted at Trooper York, a speakeasy blog (invitation only) I frequent:
It is sarsa time in Madison. The hot August sun has ripened the tomatoes, and Monona Bay that skirts 'Little Italy' seems congealed in silver silence. It is the season before the gnat invasion.
All along lower Regent Street, in adjoining backyards and open spaces off Milton Street, Italian housewives are vigilantly guarding the sarsa boards from the threat of rain. Within the homes the kettles are boiling—big kettles filled with sliced red tomatoes. When after an hour the cooking has turned the bubbling pulp into a thin red sauce, the contents are strained. Then the squishy mass is poured on clean white sarsa boards and placed in the sun to evaporate. Every hour, or oftener, the thickening nucleus is spread and respread until it takes on a richer shade and becomes a heavy relish. As it is packed away in jars, olive oil is poured on top—enough to form an air-proof covering. The finished product is then ready for use—all fall, all winter, all spring—until another crop of red tomatoes can be harvested.
~from Old World Wisconsin by Fred L. Holmes, published in 1944. Other nationalities are at the "Old World Wisconsin" tag.

"Sarsa" is Sicilian dialect for salsa.

Here's a link to a photo of a woman preparing "sarsa" in Madison. link

I especially like the simple trick of pouring oil over the sarsa to keep out air. That's exactly how commercial sodium and potassium metals (both air and moisture sensitive) are sold--submerged in oil to protect them.


  1. I used to have the best recipe for tomato sauce which I learned from an elderly Italian lady. She prepared it on a continuous as-needed basis for her family. It's pretty basic but I wish I hadn't lost the specifics.

    She first cooked down the tomatoes, seasoning mainly with basil. This took hours--the longer the better to cook out the tomato's natural acidity and also to thicken it. In a separate saucepan she would sautee onions, garlic and rosemary in butter. She kept them separate until just before serving with (not over pasta).

    She also taught me a great bagna cauda recipe.

  2. Good post, Bruce. The kids name is probably Pelleteri, not what they spelled. Pelleteri has a large waste management biz and that may be the owner?. What is your ethnicity, dude? I'm like Trooper half Irish and half Italian.

  3. So..Can I make white bread and mayo cracks. Just bustn's balls, obviously you are a rennaisance WASP.