Foundation staff Suzie Wilton and Stacy Allen visited St Raphael’s Primary School to share in their annual Passata Day (and get covered in tomato juice!). This is Stacy’s account of the day …
On a fine autumn day in March, St Raphael’s Primary School in Melbourne transformed a section of its playground into a mobile passata-making factory.
The school set up trestle tables and equipment under portable gazebos so students could wash, chop, cook and mince 10 boxes of ripe red tomatoes, and transform them into delicious passata.
St Raphael’s Sustainability Coordinator Catherine Talarico and her father Aldo Molinaro guided eager Year 5 and 6 students in how to make the passata.
After moving to Australia from Italy, Aldo carried on his family’s tradition of turning early autumn bumper tomato crops into passata for the colder months. He said he was proud to pass on the tradition to his daughter, and the students at St Raphael’s PS.
The school is in the northern Melbourne suburb of Preston, which has a large community of residents with Italian heritage.
Catherine said Passata Day was an important way of passing down the knowledge from generation to generation.
“It’s important because we’re losing these traditions … it’s something that was mainstream, in Italian families especially, and it’s starting to get lost. So, it’s nice to reintroduce kids to their heritage, and give them a new skill,” she said.
“They love it. They have a really great time, they get messy, they get to work with each other. It’s a really positive experience for them.”
St Raphael’s Principal Damian Howard agreed it was important to help keep these traditions alive, and said the Passata Day was a valuable part of the school’s Italian program.
“It’s great to see someone like Aldo working with the children. He’s proud to keep these customs alive and I love that,” he said.
“It’s educating for life … it’s making a difference to these kids. They won’t forget this day.”
On Passata Day, students from Years 5 and 6 worked in shifts to help prepare the tomatoes – completing their tasks with looks of pure joy on their faces.
First the tomatoes were washed, then taken to a table where students carefully chopped them in half and removed any blemishes. Buckets of the chopped tomatoes were passed to Aldo, who warmed them in a large pot on a portable gas ring. Aldo then carefully tipped the steaming tomatoes onto a cooling rack. After some of the heat had subsided, the tomatoes were passed through the mincer.
Mincing the tomatoes seemed to be the most popular (and the messiest!) job. As the warm tomatoes were pushed through the mincer, the skins separated from the flesh of the tomato, sending a steady spray of tomato juice onto the two people operating the mincer. There was much laughter and joyful exclamations from the students as their clothes, shoes and skin became steadily redder.
The tomato skins were passed through the mincer several times, to extract as much juice and flesh as possible, then given to the school’s chickens as a tasty treat. The chickens (named Scramble, Mint and Nugget) gobbled up the vivid red skins when they were deposited in their pen.
When the students operating the mincer had filled a large saucepan with the passata, it was passed to the bottling table. Students placed a basil leaf in the bottom of each passata bottle, and then carefully ladled the vibrant red sauce into the bottles through a funnel. The students screwed lids onto the filled bottles, and stacked them into polystyrene veggie boxes.
After all the tomatoes had been processed, almost 150 bottles of passata were loaded into an enormous stainless steel barrel, cushioned with hessian bags, and covered with water. Aldo boiled the bottles to preserve the contents, and let them cool overnight before collecting the finished product.
A week later, the entire school community gathered for a Harmony Day lunch of pasta and passata. Students, split up into their houses, sat at four long tables set up in the school hall – just like the students at Hogwarts in the world of Harry Potter.
Parents and staff at the school worked tirelessly to prepare enough pasta to feed more than 300 students. While waiting for their lunch, the students decorated the paper tablecloths with messages about what Harmony Day meant to them.
Before the meal, Damian welcomed the gathering in Italian and Father Simon Granger, the parish priest, said grace, also in Italian.
Bunches of fragrant basil from the school garden had been used to decorate the tables, and students were able to pluck fresh leaves from these to add to their pasta and passata.
Year 6 student Francesca said she was proud to have been part of the group of students who made the passata, and excited to be able to sample it at the pasta lunch.
“The pasta was really nice, and I loved the sauce,” she said.
It was Francesca’s second time helping to make passata, and she said her favourite job was crushing the tomatoes in the mincer.
In 2017, St Raphael’s became a member of the Kitchen Garden Classroom to access support and resources from the Kitchen Garden Foundation for cooking and gardening activities. As well as Passata Day and the pasta lunch, Catherine runs a garden club and occasional cooking sessions with students at the school.
Damian said Passata Day and other kitchen and garden activities provided valuable learning opportunities for students.
“We know that learning is not all reading, writing and maths,” Damian said.
“This is learning for life. It’s those core skills kids need … to be able to collaborate with others and problem solve - and they’re having fun!”
- Scroll through the photo gallery above to see images of all the fun from Passata Day and the pasta lunch, and watch the videos below to see passata-making in action.
- If your school or service would like to dig into pleasurable food education like St Raphael’s Primary School, then head to our Kitchen Garden Classroom membership page.
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