Moving from Atlanta, GA to South Orange, NJ in 1977 was a shock to my mother’s system. Deeply tethered to her southern roots, parents, siblings and friends, it was an emotional move to say the least. She had separated from my biological father when I was just four and shortly after, we moved in with my mother’s parents; my Nana and my Papa. Not long after we moved in with them, friends of my mothers fixed her up with a successful businessman who was in town from NJ. Sparks flew, she fell hard for him and six months after they started dating, he proposed.
Tiny, tanned, pig tailed and sharp tongued, I gave him a run for his money, but he soon won me over with my first tinted chapstick and my very own tiny sapphire and diamond band when he proposed to my mother and “proposed” to me. I was five at the time and this would be my mother’s second marriage. On a balmy, July Georgia evening in my grandparent’s backyard, we stood under the chuppah together, the three of us. Wedged between them I stared down at my white party socks trimmed in lace and my shiny Mary Janes, pleased as punch to be the center of attention and carrying my very own bouquet.
They honeymooned in Hawaii, while I “honeymooned” on Hilton Head Island with Nana and Papa. I can still feel my Nana, her deeply bronzed slender arms holding me, lifting me, as the waves touched my sun-kissed toes. Wee!! She would shout into the wind as the waves moved in and she hoisted me up. As soon as my Mother and David returned from Hawaii, we moved up north and David began the process of adopting me. Nana and Papa were devastated that we were now a plane ride away.
Buckled into the way way back of my mother’s metallic blue and wood paneled station wagon, I faced the slow moving NJ traffic behind us as she explained from the front seat, glancing in the rearview mirror at me, that David would now be my new daddy.
“Berkowitz will be your new last name,” her accent was soft and southern but her words were firm, “we’re gonna drop your old last name like a plate on the floor.”
And that was that.
To this day, he is the only man I have ever considered to be my father.
Each winter as the cold NJ weather started to ease up and push its way out along with the bone chilling winds of March, my mother would make it a priority when cooking to use up our “winter onions.”
Soon, bushels of sweet Vidalia Onions in dusty orange mesh bags would be arriving from Georgia sent by my Nana. My mother wasn’t a passionate cook, but she missed cooking with her own mother back in Atlanta. Side by side, they stood in Nana’s avocado green kitchen that overlooked her beautifully tended gardens and black wrought iron gate leading to the pale blue slice of a pool.
That care package of Georgia onions pulled from the red clay earth of the south brought my mother closer to home and back to her own roots.
Her Velvet Tomato Sauce was a 1,2,3 easy peasy way to plow through the large yellow NJ onions making way for the sweeter golden bulbs that would soon be shipped up from Georgia with the warmer months. As a little girl I loved it best ladled over spaghetti, but it’s equally delicious over chicken, fish or rice. Try it over all of them and report back! You’re going to be thrilled to use up your own “winter onions,” you’ll be tickled pink that this sauce basically cooks itself, and you’ll be even happier when you taste it. Don’t freak out from the lack of instruction; it’s truly that simple. The magic happens about an hour in when the onion begins to fall apart and the butter turns your sauce to velvet. Tinah Ina (insert your best southern drawl) would need smelling salts if you even think about throwing that onion away. Make sure to grab pieces of that translucent gem as you spoon it out of your pot (click here for one of my favorite pots perfect for your own velvet tomato sauce). I do declare!
The Bee’s Velvet Tomato Sauce
- Medium, heavy bottomed pot (Jule's favorite is linked above and below)
- 2 containers Pomi Strained Tomatoes
- 1 Gigantic Yellow Onion, outer skin peeled and cut in half
- 1 stick Unsalted Butter
- 1-2 tbsp Kosher Salt
- 1 tbsp Sugar
- Empty strained tomatoes into your pot.
- Add all of the ingredients and cover the pot.
- Bring to a gentle simmer.
- Allow the onion to soften and fall apart for approximately 1 hour.
- Spoon the sauce and the softened translucent pieces of onion over chicken, fish, rice, or your choice of pasta (click here for Jule’s favorite high fiber pasta).
All illustrations by @courtneycoloring.