- In the late 19th century the tomatoes were only available during summer and refrigerators were almost unkown, thus wise and cost-consious women from big cities and tomato producing areas made their own tomato paste for the winter. Keep in mind that tomato was introduced to Greece in 1815 when the country was still under Ottoman domination. It wasn’t until the second half of the 1800s that the tomato finally found a home here.
- When Greeks finally accepted tomato, they considered it as a vegetable worth being preserved for use throughout the winter.
- For villagers of the mountainous areas and the very poor Greeks fresh tomato and homemade tomato paste, were still luxuries. In 1911, the Manoussakis brothers founded the first Greek tomato – canning company, Kyknos (kyknos is the Greek word for swan). In the same year Kyknos manufactured 1000 cans of peeled tomatoes and a significant number of tomato paste cans.
- The farmers from Santorini made their own tomato paste using the waterless cherry tomatoes (tomatakia) that were cultivated on the island. By 1902 hand made tomato paste was exported to Turkey and Egypt. It gradually became a major agricultural export good. The increase in urban populations across Greece, Europe and Egypt resulted in a rising demand for canned tomatoes and paste. In 1929 the first tomato paste-processing factory was built. Tomato paste could easily be packaged and shipped abroad.
- Tomato based dishes took flight when producers began selling the canned paste. However, the women did not stop to transform tomatoes to paste because it was economical and tasteful.
- In the early 20th century a new sort of snack was invented: a piece of bread that had sun dried tomato paste on one side, sprinkled with few drops of olive oil an oregano and occasionally topped with some local goat cheese.
- Today, most Greeks use the industrial tomato products, though there is nothing like a wonderfully aromatic home-made tomato paste to thicken and give color to a sauce. The commercial tomato paste is not quite same as the home made one which can also include garlic or peppers or herbs and, traditionally, is dried under the hot August sun.
Boiling and baking method:
4 kilos tomatoes
2 tsp salt
if you like add: 2-3 garlic teeth or 1-2 large sweet green pepper seeded or 1 hot pepper or basil leaves etc.
sterilized glass jars
extra virgin olive oil
The traditional recipes ask for washed fresh tomatoes pureed through a food mill. Greeks hardly prepare peeled and seeded tomatoes for the paste but if you have time peel them, halve them and discard the seeds.
Blend the peeled tomatoes until pulped or cut them into quarters (In this case, also add garlic and/or peppers now). Transfer to a pot, add salt (garlic or peppers etc.) and bring to a boil for 2-3 minutes, stirring regularly. If you have cut the tomatoes in quarters, it’s time to process them in a food mill, processor, or blender until well pulped.
Then cook them over very low heat for 45-60 minutes, uncovered, stirring occasionally. (Please, avoid aluminum pans and use a wooden spoon). Transfer the pan to the oven and bake for about 5 hours (75°C) or until the sauce will become very thick and homogenous. Spoon the mixture into sterilized glass jars, cover with virgin olive oil, let it cool down and store in the refrigerator. To use, dilute with a little boiling water.
Baking and sun drying method
Puree the washed and skinned tomatoes in a food mill or food processor or a blender. Transfer to a pot. If you’ll use garlic its time to crush it, if you like peppers or basil process them in the blender with a little tomato – liquid. Transfer to the pot, add the salt and bring to a boil (2-3 minutes).
Let the mixture cool down. Line a bowl with cheesecloth and pour the mixture into it. Gather the ends of the cheesecloth together, tie them with a string and hang it to drain for one night. Unwrap the cloth and spread the mixture 2 cm thick on baking dishes. Put out in the sun for 2-3 days. Protect the paste from insects with a piece of cheesecloth or netting.
Transfer the dishes in the oven and bake for about 3 hours (50°C). Transfer the paste into sterilized glass jars, cover with virgin olive oil, let it cool down and store in the refrigerator. To use, dilute with a little boiling water.