Monday, February 7, 2011


Mele's mum dropped around a bucket of home-grown tomatoes last week. On the weekend we discovered that a few had gone rotten and the rest would probably follow if something wasn't done about the bucket of tomatoes.

A bucket of tomatoes is a weird kind of gift at this stage of our lives, when everything is measured by minutes and worried about for the lack of time.
I'll steal someone else's story to illustrate.

Sheila (not her real name) has a two year old daughter who loves The Wiggles. For Xmas, Sheila's sister wraps up two tickets to The Wiggly Ones and gives them to Sheila.
"Oh wow!" says Sheila. "Thank you! Wiggle-loving daughter will love this!"
"My pleasure!" replies Sheila's sister. "You two will have the best time!"
"Us two?"
Sheila's sister had never for a moment considered that the present would be about taking a Wiggle-loving two-year-old off her hands for the afternoon. She thought she was giving an experience, a memory, a genuine moment to bond between mother and daughter.
Sheila inspected the tickets. "Public transport is advised as Entertainment Centre parking is limited".
Sheila had instead been given about five hours of negotiating Adelaide public transport with an excitable two-year-old to and from a venue whose main feature by volume would be around ten thousand happy, screaming children.
Sheila was not excited.

Back to the bucket of tomatoes. A handful of garden-fresh tomatoes can be stored in the fridge and eaten slowly on bread or in salads. An entire bucket needs to have something done to it - most productively, sauce. This involves a serious time commitment: you can't just chop them up and throw them in with some herbs. They have been grown with love and care and must be treated as such. The skins need to be removed. This is laborious but worth it. Other ingrediants need to be sourced, chopped, diced and monitored. Cooking time, stirring, tasting, seasoning, cooling and freezing. Making a bucket of tomatoes into an admittedly smaller bucket of sauce takes time. The bucket of tomatoes is no longer a gift. Like the Wiggles tickets, it is the removal of time from something else: housework, homework, sleeping, sitting on the couch, playing with Charlie, laundry, gardening. Pick your chore/entertainment, now postpone or cancel it.
Not such a great gift now, eh? It's like when the tomatoes arrived, out went two hours of study, a mown lawn or chasing Charlie around growling "Oi!".

Or is it?

Because the bucket of tomatoes takes you away from all of that. The bucket of tomatoes is a job to do, but not just for yourself, for your family, for that sense of culture and heritage that it brings. Peeling each tomato, you're a tomato closer to feeding the family in the future and even honouring the work in the past. On a cold winter's night, Mele will come home tired and have that momentary 'starving family' panic alleviated when she pulls out the tub of frozen sauce from the freezer.
'These are from Nonna's garden.' She will remember and it will be better than just the plain old 'Tom sauce 7/2/11' label.
These tomatoes are sweet. These tomatoes mean something a bit more than food. They're not a drain on time, but a historical use of it. They are a reminder that your hands work along with your heart and your stomach and all together they produce something which combines and affects all three.

And they smell great too.

Thanks, Nonna.


  1. Nicely said. Many's the time I've thought that a 'gift' would be so much better if some 'help' was part of the wrapping.

    Franzy you should submit this to a paper or publisher somewhere; it would strike a chord with most people.

  2. Thanks, Kath.

    I was actually beginning to make a point about how intensive house-related chores tend to STOP you from doing all these other, supposedly more worthy tasks. But I couldn't help feeling good while I was doing it - even as I was thinking about the other stuff I could/should be doing. I couldn't help feeling like I was actually performing a rewarding task and, although I'm not a believer, some intangible part of my person was growing.

    Mind you - I wouldn't want to be doing it every day.

  3. I'm reminded of the summer I grew many, many green beans and spent a lot of time blanching and freezing them, along with the carrots, (not so many of them), and cooking down loads of tomatoes ready to use in soups and casseroles the following winter. I've never been able to make a decent Italian style tomato sauce and when asking people they don't like to share the family recipe they've been bragging about. Now I don't grow so many tomatoes, but I still cook and freeze a few for the winter casseroles.
    I think you should submit this to a paper too, maybe the local Messenger.

  4. I think any tomato sauce you like is the one that's decent. The one I cook is the same one that's been in my family for 30 years ... since my mum or dad made it up. Never changed. No, wait. I added an anchovie.
    That's it.


An explanation of The Joy Division Litmus Test

Although it may now be lost in the mysts of thyme, the poll below is still relevant to this blog. In the winter of 2008, Mele and I went to live in Queensland. In order to survive, I bluffed my way into a job at a Coffee Club.
It was quite a reasonable place to work: the hours were regular, the staff were quite nice, it wasn't particularly taxing on my brain.
There were a few downsides: In the six weeks or so that I worked there, there was about a 90% staff turnover (contributed to by my leaving). This wasn't seen as a result of the low pay, the laughability of staff prices or the practice of not distributing tips to staff, rather it was blamed on the lack of work ethic among Bribie Island's youth.
However, one of the stranger aspects of the cultural isolation that touched our lives during our time "up there" was the fact that nobody at my work had heard of the band Joy Division.
The full explanation is available here.
But please, interact a little further and vote in my ongoing poll. The results are slowly mounting up, proving one thing: people read this blog are more well-informed about Joy Division than anyone who works at the Coffee Club on Bribie Island.

Have you heard of the band Joy Division?

Chinese food, not Chinese Internet!

Champions of Guess The Header

  • What is Guess The Header about? Let’s ask regular “Writing” reader, Shippy: "Anyway, after Franzy's stunning September, and having a crack at 'Guess The Header' for the first time - without truly knowing what I was doing mind you - I think I finally understand what 'GTH' is all about. At first I thought you needed to actually know what it was. Don't get me wrong — if you know what it is, it may help you. I now realise that it's more Franzy's way of invoking thought around an image or, more often than not, part of an image. If you dissect slightly the GTH explanatory sentence at the bottom of his blog you come up with this: “The photo is always taken by me and always connects in some way to the topic of the blog entry it heads up.” When the header is put up, the blog below it will in some obscure way have something to do with it. “Interesting comments are judged and scored arbitrarily and the process is open to corruption and bribery with all correspondence being entered into after the fact and on into eternity, ad infinitum amen.” Franzy judges it, but it's not always the GTH that describes the place perfectly that gets it. “The frequent commenters, the wits, the wags and the outright smartarses who, each entry, engage to both guess the origin and relevance of the strip of photo at the top (or “head”) of each new blog and also who leave what I deem the most interesting comment.” It generally helps if you're a complete smartarse and can twist things to mean whatever you feel they should mean - exactly the way Franzy would like things to be twisted." - Shippy Blogger and GTH point scorer.
  • Nai - 1
  • Lion Kinsman - 2
  • Will - 2
  • Brocky - 2
  • Andy Pants - 2
  • The 327th Male - 3
  • Mad Cat Lady - 3
  • Miles McClagen - 4
  • Myninjacockle - 4
  • Asheligh - 5
  • Neil - 5
  • Third Cat - 5
  • Adam Y - 6
  • Squib - 6
  • Mele - 6
  • Moifey - 7
  • Jono - 8
  • The Other, other Sam - 14
  • Kath Lockett - 15
  • Shippy - 19
  • River - 32