Wednesday, March 19, 2008

The Importance of Passing Down Recipes

I must admit that I have procrastinated writing my Apples & Thyme entry for this month for two reasons: my life has been feeling a bit out of control and not allowing me to feel my usual ability to communicate, and secondly, I wasn't sure what I wanted to write about. Of course, my mother always is in the forefront of my mind, and I've written about her many, many times. Some days her absence feels so strong, filling me with sadness and an inability to write about her. Other times, it is easier.

After her death last October, my older sister and I sifted through her huge collection of recipes - she filed them neatly in binders, categorized and put handwritten notes on her favorites. We came across three - 3x5 index cards, each with the same recipe but each one having one of her three daughter's names on it. On the back, she had written "October 1975"! The recipe was simply labeled "Cornbread", but it wasn't just any cornbread - it was our Nanna's delicious cornbread. She wanted to make sure that we each had a copy of this legendary recipe.
Here's a little background: "Nanna" was my mother's mother and was raised in the back woods of West Virginia. I've written about here before. My grandfather was from Georgia and later Tennessee, and they settled in Ohio. They continued there humble, southern cooking traditions throughout their life. One of the staples at the dinner table was cornbread, and my Nanna's was the best. Cornbread from the south is savory, while the cornbreads I've tasted on the west coast are usually a little sweet. I have never gotten used to that sweet flavor and still prefer, and can taste to this day, an old-fashioned Southern cornbread slathered with butter.

When I read the recipe I called my older sister to question a few things. First of all, we don't believe they sell self-rising cornmeal anymore, although perhaps they do somewhere. I went on line and found this information on the Aunt Jemima Corn Meal site: To make one cup of self-rising cornmeal:
1 tablespoon baking powder
1/2 teaspoon salt
3/4 cup + 3 tablespoons Quaker or Aunt Jemima Corn Meal

The second thing I asked my sister is "Why did Nanna's cornmeal always taste soooo savory, almost like there was some bacon in it?" This recipe doesn't indicate anything like that. She immediately knew the answer. Nanna used to coat her pan with bacon grease before putting the batter in. Ah hah! Another old-time southerner's trick!

I remember my mom carrying on the cornbread tradition by making a simple meal of it with some cooked beans and coleslaw. Yum!

The point I started to make about the importance of passing down recipes is that a recipe such as this, which was never written down by my Nanna would have been lost if my mother hadn't taken the time to write it down for all to remember. We were all touched by mom's foresight at making a copy for each of us because she knew how important it would be to us one day - over 30 years later!

Over and over again we have read stories in this Apples and Thyme event of people wishing that they had a certain recipe one of their mothers or grandmothers used to make, but now it is impossible to get because the person has passed on and no one knows exactly how they had made it. Which leads me to why I love this event so much - it honors those age-old family cooking traditions and encourages us to write about them for posterity's sake. It even encourages us to seek out those living members of our family and ask them for their secrets before it is too late to do so.
Please visit this month's Apples & Thyme host - Mele Cotte - to see the full round up, which will posted sometime before the end of the month.

Tuesday, March 18, 2008

Piccola Cucina

One of the many things that has been keeping me busy lately is this new project. Obviously it is only applicable for those of you living in Southern California. It would be great if some of you local readers and bloggers out there could participate. I can't speak highly enough of my partner in this project - Christina Sbarra. She is an excellent Italian teacher and has come to specialize in teaching the language via activities. It has proven to be one of the fastest ways to learn. We are both passionate about Italian cooking, food and wine and thought that using those activities would be a fun vehicle for learning the language. Any level of Italian speaker - yes, even beginners - are welcome.

Piccola Cucina
Italian Cooking & Language Lessons

Have you ever wanted to speak Italian?
How about learn to cook authentic Italian dishes?
Now you can do both at the same time!

All levels of Italian welcome – including beginners. Three hour class includes Italian language instruction along with a cooking lesson, in Italian, lunch and wine. Small group – limited to 6 people. Classes are held on Sundays from 11 am – 2 pm in Long Beach.

Sunday, April 13: “Stuzzichini” (appetizers, salads, bruschettas, etc.)

Sunday, April 27: A regional lesson on the cuisine of Tuscany.

Sunday, May 4: “Primavera” – cooking with the freshest Spring ingredients.

Sunday, May 18: A regional lesson on the cuisine of Le Marche.

Fees: Save money buying when you sign up for all four classes! 1 class $100, 2 classes $90 each, or 4 classes $75 each.

Your instructors:
Christina Sbarra is the Coordinator and Instructor of the Language Center of Long Beach (a branch of La Lingua La Vita from Todi, Italy – She has over 10 years of Italian teaching experience and specializes in teaching language through activities, which has been proven to be one of the most effective ways to learn a language. Christina has been a passionate home cook of Italian food for over 20 years.

Jeni Moretti is an Italian wine and food expert who owns Passionate Palate Tours ( a company specializing in group wine and food tours of Italy. She also has many years of working in the Italian wine business and studying the regional cuisines of Italy.

For more information, please call Christina at 562-930-9194 or email christinasbarra AT yahoo DOT com.

Saturday, March 15, 2008

Still Here

Dear friends,

I am still here, but have been away from blogging for a few weeks. Life happened. My intentions are to get back to a normal blogging routine soon, after some things calm down in my life. I miss you all!

In the meantime, please don't forget to submit your post for this month's Apples & Thyme event. This is the first time we have a guest host - the talented and beautiful Chris at Mele Cotte. Do forward all entries to here at melecotte AT gmail DOT com.

May you all be well.

I'll be back soon (or "A Presto" as we say in Italian),