2020: F – April A to Z… Family Stories
I’m back in 2020 for my fifth year of participating in the yearly April A to Z challenge… and as usual I racked my brain scribbling ideas on paper since the end of last April. It wasn’t until January, that the light bulb finally went off in scrolling through the 85+ of unfinished blog posts in my draft folder. Bingo… there was my A to Z topic…
Family Stories as told to me… mostly by my husband!
From the moment I married into this Italian family… I fell in love with their stories… their memories… and the family. My husband grew up in West Haven, Connecticut… where there was so much to enjoy as a young boy… especially a place known as Savin Rock… although long gone now. It somewhat resembled Coney Island… but was even larger when his parents, aunts and uncles grew up. They had stories… and I was always an eager listener whenever they told those stories… remembering, and scribbling down to preserve, just as I did with the family recipes that had once only been in their heads. 2020 has became the year I’m telling many of those stories… along with my husband’s memories to preserve for the generations to come. Many of those who told me their stories, are no longer with us… and I hope to keep their memory alive in these stories… as they are now my family also… and I love them all!
My previous years of A to Z Challenges are:
- 2016: A to Z Southern Foods and Memories… they said write what you know… and being a girl born in the South… well this was what I knew.
- 2017: A to Z Conversations with Mama… it was a somewhat easy one for me to write as I’d journaled our conversations for years… I researched favorite topics to write.
- 2018: A to Z All About Nancy Drew… this one has been my favorite topic so far, and I don’t know if I’ll ever come up with another one to equal it
- 2019: A to Z Italian Famiglia Foods and Memories… I felt it was time to finally write the favorites of my husbands family foods.
Come sit a spell and enjoy!
Family Recipes… Cookies and more
Very few have family recipe boxes today holding their treasured recipes… they have the Internet! But without having mom and grandma’s recipes written down… you’re losing your family history… the history of their recipes!
When I began writing this post, I thought back about my own recipe box… which once sat on my kitchen counter… today it’s been pushed in a cabinet… which tells me I never look through it anymore, but I did pull it out, along with a few recipe books I’ve filled with my favorite recipes… that I haven’t looked at in years.
I found this recipe written in my mother-in-law’s (Celia Insalaco) handwriting her… it was her mothers (Grandma Minnie) favorite go-to cookie whenever company stopped by. I’m told that she would whip these up almost before the coffee was ready; she must have kept a large supply of molasses on hand. This recipe is a good example of how they measured… note that they often measured by soup bowls and glasses instead of cups for measuring. No exact amount was given on the molasses either… other than as written, 1 bottle… so not sure on that, but knowing how strong it is, I’m thinking that surely she didn’t use the entire bottle!
In calling Aunt Nancy and Aunt Dolly to ask if they still have recipe boxes on their counter…. I learned “Yes” they do!
Recipe cards have disappeared from the younger generations kitchen… who pulls out that weathered food splattered recipe cards any longer… very few… but I sometimes do! I remember making recipe cards on my computer years ago… being a “paper” person I’ve always loved anything paper so I had several different cards… some only for me… while others were used when I gave recipes out. But very few today even take the time to write out recipes anymore. There’s only one person I can think of that gave me hand-written recipes… a friend at work, and one of the best bakers around in giving explicit directions. How many have you known, that when they give you a recipe… something was left out… or the cook who wouldn’t give you her recipe? I’ve never understood that… I always felt honored if someone asked me for my recipe… but there are others who’d rather take it to their grave… why is that?
Through the years, there have been many types of Anginette cookie recipes… and every family have their favorite! I remember Celia telling me how her mother-in-law (Nonni) made hers with milk… I was excited to find that recipe!
As I looked through my recipe cards, I noticed how some ingredients changed from one ingredient type to another, like oleo for butter… or crisco to butter… or in the case of the Anginette recipes changing from orange juice and milk to ricotta. Also measurements were changed… I found saucer cups listed… and even a glass… mentioning to use a small glass. Grandma Minnie used a saucer cup in measuring flour… they didn’t have measuring cups or spoons in their kitchens like we do today… they had cups and saucers and regular teaspoons and tablespoons. There are some things I don’t actually measure though… often like vanilla extract… I still seem to eyeball it. Hubby laughs at me… he always grabs the teaspoon to measure. When he first began baking, he often had to ask me to explain some of my cooking terminology written on the recipe cards… like what was opt (optional)… or a pinch… or heaping… or what tsp. or tblsp meant. I guess I thought everyone could decipher my abbreviations. Even today, when I make homemade Italian Cream… I still use a regular tablespoon to judge my heaping… it’s how I was taught! It was also hard to send him to the store with an abbreviated food list… pot wasn’t asking for a cooking pot… it was potatoes… and swt pot was really sweet potatoes… and after almost 49 years of marriage, there’s usually something still on the food list I have to explain!
“A pinch is whatever fits between my thumb and finger… geez, doesn’t everyone know that?”
I remember many times in looking through my recipe box for a certain recipe… and not finding it… because it wasn’t filed… necessarily in how I was searching. Many things I filed under D for desserts or V for vegetables… which often took me awhile in finding… and when I didn’t, I learned to always search under “A”… it was always easier to stuff back in the front. I’m sure you’re laughing now… as you’ve done the same thing! Those recipe boxes actually needed an Amazon’s “Alexa” to find the recipe! If you still have a recipe box… go look and see if you’ve filed in the same manner!
During the school years, I often was called upon to send in recipes for cookbook fundraisers. In searching through my recipes, I found one of the Davis School cookbooks I submitted recipes to… sending in one of Melissa’s favorite recipes.
My youngest baker… Melissa helping grandpa!
After my recipe box disappeared off my counter, I began using a recipe book to write my recipes in… having them all in one place. My daughter has laid claim to those books with all the food splattered pages and notes of who likes which recipe best. When Stephen and Melissa first moved out, I gave them each a recipe book of their favorites… all hand written by me… and they still use them today!
Dolly told me that her mother never had any recipe cards, they were all in her head… sounds right for that generation. I remember every Easter my mother-in-law diligently calling her mother to ask for the ingredients in the ham pie crust… and I’d always say, “you better write that down.” That’s what pushed me to gather hubby’s family recipes and create a family cookbook.
“Something that’s always puzzled me was… How did our grandmother’s know the temperatures of their wood-burning stove? My mother always said how her mother just knew from the feel of the heat.”
I’ve often heard some say… the recipe was lost because no one ever wrote down grandma’s recipes… sometimes you have to recreate that recipe… from the memory of taste and knowing about what ingredients went into the making of it. I had to do that with my grandmother Bryan’s “sweet potato cobbler”… if you’d like to read further on how I accomplished in creating it, and see the recipe… click over HERE.
My mother also never had any written recipes, she cooked her southern fried chicken, dressing, lemon pie and biscuits from her head… and the feel in her hands. When I ask if her mother had any recipes, she’ll laugh and say, “my mother probably didn’t even know what the word recipe meant”… she just knew how to cook.”
While looking through Celia’s notebook of recipes… I found Stephen’s artwork on the page where he wrote my mother’s biscuit recipe!
While watching Martha Stewart bake sponge cakes today on her new show “Martha Bakes”, Steve said. “My mother often cooked sponge cakes through the years, although she called them angel food cakes… they were her favorite; we didn’t like them too much, but we ate them anyway. She never seemed to use a written recipe… the recipe was just in her head.” (I never found any specific sponge cake recipes written down anywhere, so I guess the recipe really was in her head)
One of my many food splattered recipes!
In showing Steve a recipe for making homemade Ricotta… “I think Grandma Minnie made it… I remember her using cheesecloth for many things and you did have to strain the liquid through cheesecloth to finish the ricotta process. My father used cheesecloth for many things also – he even strained paint through it.”
Celia’s pasta machine
“I helped my mother make homemade pasta from the time I was old enough to turn the handle on her pasta machine; it was a big process and many hands were needed. She made the pasta dough right on the table, beginning with a well of flour. After the dough was made, I helped by running it through her hand-crank machine… flattening the dough into long strips… that was the fun part as a child. It was then laid on clean sheets on the bed to dry. After drying, we boiled and dumped it back on the kitchen table where we quickly began separating the cooked noodles. That was the best part… as I liked eating the cooked dough; even though it was only plain cooked dough… it tasted so good. Everyone pitched in to help… from turning the crank… to making the ricotta mixture… and then stuffing the manicotti noodles. You scooped up a small amount of ricotta-meat mixture… laying it in the middle of the dough, rolled it up and into the baking dish it went… waiting for sauce. It was a lot of work, but it was so well worth it in the long run.”
I’ll always treasure the family stories and recipes from Aunt Mary. When I began the family cookbook, ”Italiano Famiglia Recipes,” she taught me many of the old family recipes she learned from her mother… there were no written recipes. Between her and Aunt Jojo, I also learned many of the family stories behind those recipes, as well as enjoying their cooking when I visited. Aunt Mary is Stephen’s Godmother and she’s often cooked him many of the old Italian family dishes through the years. Whenever you walk in Aunt Mary’s house, you know from the smell that there’s something good waiting for you… and you never leave empty-handed.
Aunt Nancy (Cavallaro) remembers: “I remember the fish man coming every Wednesday to our house. My mother bought and cleaned the calamari, made sauce and stuffed them with an egg and bread mixture… then pan fried; sewing them up was always my job. We also had an iceman (Ralph Camputaro) who delivered ice every week… he lived next door to us.” (My husband remembers Grandma Minnie’s stuffed calamari… and how no one has ever made that except for grandma… another recipe, lost forever.)
This seems to be an even earlier recipe for Cherry Winks… and today I use butter, not Crisco… and I never heard of French’s Vanilla! I found it interesting how they mention an adaption in the flour on measurements for bakers in the South! Another change today is… the name has changed to Cherry Dot cookies… which I don’t understand as Cherry Winks was a much more catchier name… and I think walnuts give a better taste than pecans in this recipe. I’ve tried both… as just “nuts” were written on my original recipe… but I’ve changed it now to say walnuts!
Cherry Winks is one of my favorite cookie recipes I learned from my mother-in-law… a cookie made with cornflakes, cherries and dried dates. I remember being hesitant to try them at first… but I quickly became hooked! Even today, it’s still my favorite Christmas cookie to bake… when I’m motivated to bake! While writing a blog post on them one day, I laughed when I turned the page in a small Kellogg booklet I’d saved from cleaning out her kitchen drawers… there was her original recipe… even with food splatters! (The book was printed in 1971, the year I came to CT… maybe it was a new recipe for her also) You can read that post over HERE.
Continue reading 2020: April A to Z: Family Stories… click HERE
To read more Family Stories… click HERE
To read more Family Recipes and Memories… click HERE.
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