Food Makes Memories

When I was growing up, we visited my grandmother’s most Sundays for homemade pasta and meatballs.

I’m not talking about the kind of pasta that comes from a machine-fed operation; I’m talking about the hand-cut stuff that got rolled into gigantic round sheets and cut with a knife —a dull knife.

Grandma used to work that old knife through the dough, her gnarled fingers cutting with such patience. Such precision. No measuring, no fancy gadgets. Grandma lived with my Aunt Marie and together they made cavatelli and something else we called “hats”. (I later discovered this was orecchiette.) When we visited, all four of us kids couldn’t wait to try making cavatelli. The trick was in the way you rolled the cut dough with your index and middle finger. By the twentieth one, I was ready to be done. Not Grandma. On and on she went, just like she’d done for a good part of her eighty-plus years.

There was nothing like the smell of a good meatball frying in the kitchen. Have you ever tried brown meatballs? Aunt Marie fried them, no baking in those days, and she’d leave four out of the sauce, one for each of us kids. Oh, we were in heaven. Yes, we grew up on garlic and Pecorino Romano cheese! The salad was always simple; lettuce, onion, tomato, oil and vinegar, but pair that with a good meatball, and you don’t need much else.

If we visited on Saturdays, that was bread making day, a task Grandma never gave up. In later years, after Aunt Marie died and Grandma came to live with us, she taught me to bake bread, measuring with my eyes, immersing my hands in the flour, mixing the yeast in lukewarm water with my fingers. No machines, no fancy gadgets. I actually got quite good at it, except for the one time when Mom was at Mass and Grandma and I were left in charge of the bread. Grandma told the best stories and we were talking away and never smelled the bread burning. Mom was not happy with either one of us! I should mention here that Grandma didn’t speak English, other than the hyphenated English-Italian words like “ice-a-box-a”. Still, that didn’t stop me and Grandma from communicating. Three years of Spanish proved a very helpful crossover and the rest came from Grandma’s tutoring.

Food has always been an important part of our family and our history. Grandma never quite trusted dishes like lasagna, ravioli, or gnocchi. She liked her pasta without the extras of cheese and potato. One of my very favorite dishes is Pasta and Broccoli, perhaps because it was the last dish my Aunt Marie made us, but I think it’s also because it represents the type of food we enjoyed as kids. (We ate calamari too; cleaned it, removed the insides, got all itchy from the inky water!)

My mother is the one who makes a great lasagna, ravioli, and pretty much every dish I’ve included in the cookbook I’m working on. Yes, I’m working on a cookbook tied into the “A Family Affair” books! I have never seen anyone whip up a pumpkin roll like she can or make a pie crust as though it were second nature. Practice, she says. But she should know that practice means I will eat those pies…and not just one piece! And let me tell you, that Banana bread recipe is delicious!

Mom is in so many of the “cooks” I write about in my stories; Stella Androvich, Miriam Desantro, Ramona Casherdon. In our home, food makes memories…What about in your home? Do you have a favorite food memory?

Mary

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4 Comments on "Food Makes Memories"

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Alice Balliet
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Hi Mary. I know your mom and she taught Pat and I how to make homemade pasta for the pasta and broccoli. Was a fun time and a delicious meal. My mom also made pasta and broccoli. I look forward to your cookbook.

Mary Campisi
Admin

Hi Alice:

Though we’ve never formally met, I’ve heard a lot of good things about you. Oh, but you have made me hungry for pasta and broccoli. Mom keeps telling me to give homemade pasta a try, but I’ve barely gotten the pie crust figured out. Besides, she doesn’t seem to realize I will eat all of the “practice runs” and the results would not be good.

Thanks again for the note and I look forward to meeting you one day.

Best,

Mary

Leslie Thaxton
Guest

Can’t wait for the cookbook!I’m not Italian but my aunt married an Italian.When she came to visit, she always made an Italian dish. I am new to your books and I look forward to reading them. From NC

Mary Campisi
Admin

Hi Leslie!

Thanks for taking the time to write. I’m always interested in talking about food, and of course writing about it…As you’ll find out, most of my books mention food and might make you hungry!

Take care,

Mary