Now’s the time to pick tomatoes: North Fork Sunday Scene

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Farmer Walter Hodun Jr. said picking a bushel (50 pounds) goes fast because the fruit is clustered together and plants are two feet apart. (Credit: Barbaraellen Koch)

I talked to farmer Eddie Hodun Jr. at his 10-acre U-pick farm in Calverton this week and he pointed out that this is “the kick-off week” for tomatoes, especially for the variety of tomatoes many people want to make fresh sauce. He explained that the weather has been just hot enough “it brings out the sugar in the fruit.”

He’s gotten so many recipes for sauce over they years, he could create a cookbook, he said.

He planted the field in greenhouse-grown plants this spring. Half are of the Roma variety and the rest are Beefsteak. People have been coming to his family farm since they started the U-pick about 20 years ago. Besides the tomatoes they also offer eggplants, peppers, hot peppers and mixed vegetable bushels as U-pick.

Hodun said the 120-acre Hodun Farms was started in the late ’60s by Walter Hodun Sr. and brother Edmund Sr. on Route 25 and River Road in Calverton. It is farmed today by him and Walter Hodun Jr., Trisha Hodun Smith and Sara Hodun. Farmer Walter Jr., 23, says “I like doing it. It is what my family does and I want to keep it going.”

Earlier this week I ran into to the DiPaolo family of Glen Cove. They were at the farm picking six bushels of the Roma variety of tomatoes to put up sauce for the winter — they said that makes about 120 quarts of sauce.

Artist Christine Mistretta Dupuis of Riverhead shared this remembrance of making sauce with her 85-year-old mother Ann Speciale of Dix Hills.

“I remember as a young girl, coming from a family of seven children, smelling the garlic and onions throughout the house as the tomato sauce cooked,” she said. “I loved helping Mom make the meatballs that would later cook in the pot. This was a tradition in our family every Sunday without fail. No doubt there was always enough for any company that “just so happened” to drop by!”

Christine’s Fresh Plum Tomato sauce

Ingredients: 1 bushel fresh plum tomatoes (rinsed, par-boiled, skinned, seeds removed, then pulsed in food processor till chunky , 1-2 bunch fresh flat leaf Italian parsley (chopped ), 1 bunch fresh basil (chopped ), 4-6 large sweet onions peeled and chopped, 3-4 cloves of fresh garlic (crushed, peeled and chopped fine), 1 Tbsp. dried oregano, salt and pepper to taste, hot pepper flakes (optional), pure Italian olive oil, 1 tablespoon sugar. 3 small cans tomato paste.

Directions: In a 12-quart heavy sauce pot pour about 1/4 cup olive oil and on medium heat soften onions until almost translucent, stirring every few minutes to cook evenly. About 10 minutes. Add chopped garlic and continue stirring until the aroma fills the air and the garlic is softened but not brown. Throw in a small handful of parsley and stir for 1 minute, add tomato paste, stir.

Add tomatoes to pot stirring until well mixed. Add salt, pepper, oregano and pepper flakes. Increase heat to medium high while stirring from the bottom of the pot with wooden spoon. Add sugar. Bring almost to a slow boil, cover pot with heavy lid, lower flame to low and allow to cook stirring occasionally so as not to stick. Cook for at least 2-3 hours. The longer it cooks the better it tastes. For the last 1/2 hour remove lid to let sauce simmer down and thicken. Taste to see if more salt is needed. Sprinkle with fresh cut basil before serving.

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Sara Hodun puts out the farm’s picked bushels for sale by the roadside Thursday morning. (Credit: Barbaraellen Koch)

Sara Hodun puts out the farm’s picked bushels for sale by the roadside Thursday morning. (Credit: Barbaraellen Koch)