Friday, August 28, 2009

Reconnecting In The Kitchen


I was fortunate enough to grow up in a home with not just my parents, but also my paternal Italian grandmother.
I can taste Sunday dinners. I can smell the meals she created in her kitchen. I don’t know the recipes, because there were none. She cooked what she knew. She cooked by feel.
The sad part: My family is loosing connections to the past, its culinary past.
Since his childhood, my uncle often was in the kitchen with my grandmother. Through the years, he picked up many of her dishes. His homemade pasta is spot on! My mother watched her cook and, I must say, picked up many of the dishes despite a bit of a language barrier. (My grandmother did not speak much English.) My mother recreates her meat sauce perfectly. However, many things simply have gotten lost.
Even with my relatives still in Italy, the older generation is predominantly gone and certain kitchen delights gone with them.
Once when I was little I asked my father what the strings hanging from the iron support beam in our garage where for … “Well,” he said, “Nonna would slaughter the chickens and hang them here to drain the blood.” Despite my girlish “Eww”, even then, I thought that was pretty neat. I mean if that’s how she was able to make crispy chicken cutlets, savory chicken stock, and rich risotto (with hidden bits of giblets) who was I to complain.
There were other little strings hanging in the basement in what we used as a rudimentary wine closet. When I asked what those were for, my dad told me that’s where my grandmother dried the sausage. This dried sausage was amazing and you cannot find its likeness outside of the Abruzzi region. Really. I’ve tried. When we visited relatives last October I was delighted to have that taste once again. How my grandmother made this regional delight I do not know, but how I wish I did.
Was it that the older generation did not want to teach us? Was it that the younger generation didn’t want to learn? I don’t know.
For whatever reason, as a society we are loosing touch with our personal culinary heritages. We are slowly backing away from the kitchen. In the process, we’re loosing touch with the cherished dishes and flavors of our families. My passion for cooking didn’t really surface until my late 20’s, but since then I have never looked back. In fact, I’m told my intuitive style of cooking is much like my grandmother. And, I too, never write down a recipe.
People look surprised when I tell them my husband and I make dinner at home nearly every night. We run a small business and have busy lives but there’s something about being together in the kitchen. And believe me, not every meal is one to write home about. However, the point is that we are connecting to each other, our food, and our culinary heritage.
It’s funny, when people come over they always seem to congregate in my kitchen. I like that, I like it a lot. It’s time for all of us to reconnect in the kitchen.
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