Saturday, April 29, 2017

Preserving Family Recipes . . . and Turning 30

Front: Pictures of my Sicilian Grandmother, my mother, me and my daughter,
four generations.

My older daughter has been interested in preserving all the told family photos, oral history, documents and genealogy of our family for quite some time now. Although she has taken a break from it to plan her wedding and work extra hours to save up for a home, I know it's never far from her mind. But I really didn't know how much it really meant to her until I asked her in the beginning the new year what she wanted for her 30th birthday. Traditionally we would either go out to eat at a nice restaurant or I would cook a favorite meal at home. Since this was her 30th birthday, a milestone, I wanted to know if she wanted to do anything special and told her to think about it.  About a week later, while we were talking the phone, she announced, "I know what I want for my birthday.  I want to cook grandma's recipes."

Top: Map of Italy where our maternal recipes originated

At first I was stunned. Speechless. I wasn't expecting that at all. Selfishly speaking, I wanted a nice day out where I wouldn't have to cook, and here she wanted to do nothing but cook. After getting over the initial shock, I said to her, "We can't do all that cooking in one day. You'll have to decide what you want to make and we'll do that." All the while my mind is swimming with all the meals my mother cooked over the years and how I hated some of them so I never paid any attention to how she made them, like lentils and pasta.  But, my daughter made her request clear and she was serious about it, I could hear it in the tone of her voice. It's my job to make her wish come true and suddenly I regretted not asking my mother to write down all her recipes for me.

Sides: The top one is her paternal grandmother who came here from Malta
The bottom picture is her paternal great-grandmother who came from Austria

So, without telling her anything, I compiled a list of all the things I remembered my mother making. Then I got the brainstorm to get a recipe box to decoupage with the faces and places where her recipes would come from. I got my materials together and watched youtube videos on how to decoupage on wood. I ordered recipes cards and dividers and even a binder with pages, so I could have two complete sets of recipes for her. I planned to write them all out and present her with the whole two sets of recipes on her birthday. I hoped this would put her mind at ease that the recipes would be well preserved for future generations. I even had some recipes hand written by my mother and mother in law that I slipped into plastic sleeves to preserve for her with her family tree notes and charts.

The inside: is me and my daughter on her wedding day.
Behind us is a copy of my mother's "fig cookie recipe" which we made together.

The question remains, "Which recipe do we make for her birthday?" As I thought about it, there was only one clear answer, one choice above all the others, and that was my mother's tradition Sunday sauce.  Sunday sauce is the most important recipe we will ever make. It's the meal we grew up on, the meal that means home and family and love. It's handed down from generation to generation. You can find recipes for all the other meals in books or online, but you can never find one for your family's Sunday sauce.

The back is my son in law's mother and maternal grandmother from the Philippines;
and his paternal grandmother from England.

Now, I had shown her how to make the sauce about 15 years ago when I was going through a medical crisis and I wanted to be sure both my girls knew how to make it. It's not written down anywhere, it's in my mind's eye from watching my mother make it every Sunday throughout my life. Back in the day, when kids only had 6 channels on tv (no computers, no smart phones, no HBO, no Netflix, no cable, no nothing), we had nothing better to do than watch our moms cook. That was our reality TV.  And as we watched them we would talk and they would explain what they were doing and we would learn. Not today. Most kids only go into a kitchen when they need a snack, and even then, they probably have their eyes glued to the phone. However, after 15 years I'm sure she has forgotten everything I taught her about making Sunday sauce. So, I am fairly sure this will be the recipe we will start with.

The bottom 

Sunday sauce is a basic meat sauce that includes lots of meatballs (a little job in themselves), Italian pork sausage, and pork meat in chunks. However, there is more to it than that. For example, if you want to make a lasagna (another big job) you have to make the Sunday sauce first and add loose chop meat to the pot so the sauce that layers the lasagna is full of meat. This is true for baked ziti too. Then there is another Italian delicacy called braciole, which is thin slices of beef stuffed with salami, hard boiled egg, raisins and sliced onion, rolled up and sealed with toothpicks. This is something usually reserved for holidays and special occasions. Suffice to say that Sunday sauce and everything that goes with it, is the most traditional and most important family recipe we have.

I remembered some of the other recipes and for others I drew blanks. There were things my mother made that I never ate, so I had just a flimsy idea of how she cooked them. I went online and looked for recipes that would jog my memory and fill in the gaps so I could complete the recipes for the collection. I would compare two or three recipes to try to get as close as I could to my mother's cooking. I spent a couple of weeks writing them out in a notebook and going over each recipe until I was satisfied that I had captured the essence of what my mother did in her kitchen. Now, I just had to recopy them all on cards for the box and pages for the binder and get them ready for her birthday.

Now to fill up these cards!

Writing all the recipes two times, in neat handwriting, wasn't easy. I'd write a couple a day wanting them to be perfect, but of course I made mistakes. Thank God for white out!  I could have typed them all, but it wouldn't have been nearly as personal as I wanted this gift to be.  Slowly, but surely, I finished all the recopying and now I just have to wrap all the items and place them in a box.  I picked up a small rolling pin that holds recipe cards so you can stand them up when using them. I think she will a kick out of that.  

And now all that remains is for her to open her gifts and capture her reaction.

The BIG day arrives and we begin by cooking the sauce.  We set up the pot, stuff the braciole, fry up the meats (sausage, pork meat and braciole) and add everything to the pot.  Then we make the meatballs, fry them and add them to the pot.

And there's more to come!

A small bangle bracelet with cooking charms.

And then came the gifts. What Baby wants, Baby gets.

Gold Hoop earrings

Recipe box filled with old family recipes

Binder filled with old family recipes

The Cake!

Happy 30th Birthday to my Baby!

1 comment:

  1. Awe that's so nice. We all think we have all the time in the world to learn how our parents make things and then they are gone and its too late. Very smart to pass it on now. :-)