While it looked delicious, it did not look anything like my grandmother's Italian Wedding Soup. I don't make it often because it truly is for special occasions. You cook a whole chicken, make the meatballs from scratch- it's a process. And it tastes insanely delicious.
Anyhow, as we watched the show, I grabbed my cookbook that my grandmother had written for me to compare to what Ina was doing. I flipped through and saw Banana Sour Cream Cake. I had some old bananas and thought, rather than make my usual muffins, I'd make the cake. So I read through the recipes....
What, you asked? Your grandmother handwrote a cookbook?
Yes. In 1989, before even word processors, my grandmother had enough foresight to write down all our family recipes. And not just for me, for all 11 of the cousins. She included some words of wisdom, her favorite poems, comments on the recipes- who gave it to her (usually just a first name, as if I would know to whom she was referring), the year, if it was from a magazine, if was "Joe's favorite" etc. I love a particular spice cake from 1920. It's a great compilation of my family history.
Now before you get all nostalgic and start "Wow, that Mama Bean has a perfect life. What a wonderful grandma!" I should point out that my grandmother and I did not have a huggy, touchy kind of relationship.
My grandmother had a life very typical of first generation Americans. Her family lost their grocery store during the Depression. All of her brothers (she was one of 12) fought in every branch of the military during WWII. Her son served in Vietnam. She didn't wear pants until after my grandfather passed away in the early 70's. She scrubbed her walls (I've never done this). Her house smelled fresh. She had an amazing garden. And she cooked.
She also was not a huge fan of me as a child. I had a bit of a speech problem, so that probably set the stage. I was also, quite honestly, a strange kid. I was fairly quiet and shy (try not to laugh), lived in my books and kept to myself somewhat. Particularly during our large family gatherings. Let's face it, she thought I was a little weird. How do I know this, well, she wasn't a shy a woman...
But we spent a lot of time with her growing up. I loved her stories about growing up, when she cleaned houses, how she learned to cook (our "family" lasagna recipe is off the back of the lasagna noodle box), and we spent a lot of time in her yellow kitchen.
Throughout my teen years, I came out of my shell and developed my more, um, how shall I say, opinionated personality. We argued a bit. My grandmother could be a touch dramatic and I would call her on it. As a story teller, I sometime would fact check her. I went from being a weird kid to an annoying teen. But still, I hung out with her and bugged her.
And I think all of the grandkids, with the exception of my sister who was the favorite, had the same relationship. She was a hard nut to please. I always cringe because in my handwritten, beloved cookbook, there is a photo of me. It is the WORST picture of me ever taken. I think she did it on purpose to keep me humble. If I get a chance, I will scan it and add it. Maybe. It's that bad.
|Yes, I know. I look like Sonny Bono and Roseanne Roseannadanna's love child.||Thank God for braces. And hair mousse.|
She always saw herself as a teacher and I can honestly say my cousins- including the boys- are some of the best cooks I know. And having worked in hospitality and living in Vegas, I know a lot of chefs- my cousins and I can hold our own. We have a passion for food and cooking and it comes from that yellow kitchen.
Then, something funny happened. Similar to this week, I found myself with some time on my hands about 9 years ago. I gave birth to my son and was working from home, taking some time for maternity leave, etc. I also was incredibly bored. He slept. I worked. I hate day time TV. So I started to call my grandma. I think it started with a question on a recipe. She tended to say things like "add a can of...." without anything. She probably had had a phone call or someone drop in while she was working on the cookbook.
The following year, she became ill and my dad, who had just retired, starting to sit with her during the day. Since I had always called my dad almost daily, this turned into nearly daily calls with my grandmother. When I took Skip to meet her, she fell in love with him. She, like me, was not a baby person, so we were both surprised by this. Our conversations usually focused on her new favorite relative, Skip. She even told me she thought I was a great mom. Of course it was couched with "I wouldn't have expected that." Sigh. But then again, if I'm honest with myself, I didn't expect it either.
I went to visit her a few months before she passed away. I knew it would be the last visit. When I got to my parent's house, my aunt called me, almost frantic, saying Grandma was asking when I was coming over with my Chicken Parmesan and homemade sauce.
Well, she said you told her you found a great sauce recipe and she wants to try it.
I had. I did. I frantically called my husband, got the recipe, ran to the store and that night I took it to my grandma.
She devoured it.
My aunts were stunned. Apparently, she hadn't been eating much.
Then she turned to me and said the words that every Italian granddaughter wants to hear from her grandmother.
"I like your sauce. You used oregano. I never did.... I like it better than mine."
A good mom and a good sauce.
My grandma and I were good to go. Whatever disapproval she had shared with me during my life, it was all erased at that moment.
She passed away 3 months later.
So today, as I was making the Banana Cake, and I reduced the sugar, added some whole wheat flour, etc, I started to feel a little guilty. It seemed sacrilegious modifying a family recipe.
And then I remembered the oregano.
The reason my grandma and I finally started to get along was because she had developed respect for me during her last two years. She treated me like a peer. I had always been the one to argue back and not cower from her. I think, in the end, she liked it.
Just like she liked my sauce.
As I added the new ingredients, made my own notes in the margins, I could almost hear my grandma in heaven saying "Hmmm... yogurt instead of sour cream... oh, toffee chips- I never thought of that."