Friday, February 12, 2010

Treasures

I’ve had many responses to my post about baking panettone “out of season". It seems to have struck a cord in many of my foodie friends’ heart, or at least the thought of an intergenerational recipe hand-me-down has.

This impresses me.

Impresses me in that it leaves an impression on me, making me realize how important these traditions are to so many of us. They really are time honoured. I have memorized countless of my mother’s recipes that I could write a cookbook of them. Her recipe for pane (bread) that was passed down from my grandmother with only three ingredients: flour, water and salt, is seared into my brain. Potato gnocchi, risotto, dandelion wine and cheesecake are all swimming in that great wrinkly grey mass in my head.

Sometimes I rework the recipes and other times it seems it would be a crime to tamper with them. Some days I tear through the index in my head in search of a recipe I have never made but I know is there. And then there are those recipes which I have failed to commit to memory. Every year I inevitably call for her crunchy fudge sandwich recipe. Even the infamous Easter Ham and Egg Pie recipe has slipped from my memory warranting a phone call.

My mother is an exceptional cook. Her recipes are renown throughout the state of Vermont and probably still in Virginia. She has never been afraid to try something new. Never been afraid to create disasters in the kitchen. Never bragged when her attempts were enormous successes. She always accepted the challenges her Italian mother-in-law threw in her direction and scoffed at the thought that she couldn’t make it better. (Which, by the way, is exactly how you handle an Italian mother-in-law!) And she always, always baked something special for each person she knew when it was their birthday.

When I think of the enormous kitchen in the old farmhouse in which I grew up, I am reminded of how it smelled. Always of fresh baked bread and chocolate cake. On Thanksgiving and Christmas the aromas of a roasting turkey would break through the wall of bread and chocolate. Oftentimes a lasagne or even bacon and eggs in the morning would spread their joy throughout the house. But there was always the underlying sensation of bread and chocolate. After all, she did bake bread twice a week and made on average a chocolate cake every three days in that kitchen for over 20 years!

She has no idea the impression she has left on me. She is the woman who created me. She fostered not just my love for food, but my desire to try any food that is presented to me. Her patience allowed me to experiment with ingredients, encouraged me to make a recipe my own, and gave me the space to develop my own interests that would enable me to excel in the kitchen. Her demeanour taught me that it is perfectly acceptable to make mistakes and create disasters. And that I should never be afraid to try something new.

I have grown into who I am today because of the impression my mother left on me as well as the impressions all of those recipes passed down for generations. I am part Italian, part English and 100% inspired to be the best I could possibly be not just in the kitchen but in life.

Here’s to making every day the best we can, remembering the people who inspired us to grow into who we are, surrounding ourselves with wonderful food and sharing our most treasured recipes.

*Photo of sweet potato gnocchi courtesy of  Jill Brown

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