I often say I was never interested in cooking until I got married (at a tender age), and was obligated to hit the stove. Not exactly true. Okay, I definitely did not stand on a stool by the stove while my mother was stirring Ragù, especially because she would have bluntly said Che cavolo fai? Ho fretta…(What the heck are you doing? I’m in a rush…), but I did have food on my mind.
Are you at all familiar with the wonderful cookbook “Il Cucchiaio d’argento”, a classic of Italian cuisine? Well, my mother had a copy, it had a blue cover. I regularly pulled it out from her in-kitchen bookshelf (a lower cabinet) and leafed through it, imagining all the fabulousmanicaretti (= delectable dishes) I could prepare…Sometimes I actually enlisted my sister, and we started play-cooking, putting together a meal from antipasto to dolce, just using our imagination while reading the (very vague) recipes.
As a matter of fact, when I was in middle school, I actually compiled a notebook of recipes, which I gave to my surprised mother as a gift. I was a great fan of the children’s magazine called “Il Corriere dei piccoli”, a weekly publication aimed at kids up to high school level (Yes, it did change the name to “Corriere dei ragazzi” later, not nearly as appealing), and I eagerly purchased it every week from the local newsstand.
There was a section about food, believe it or not (yes, believe it, it’s Italy after all!), and most of the recipes were very doable, almost all sweets. Well, I – the good daughter – regularly cut them out (after having thoroughly read the entire magazine), and pasted them in a school-type notebook, which then presented to my mother, bursting with pride (months’ worth of material). Yes, of course, she liked it, thanked me appreciatively. But no, she never made any of the recipes: I think they were a little too unpractical for her. I guess.
Wish I knew where that notebook ended up.
My parent’s house is sold and gone. I can’t claim the view from my bedroom’s balcony any more. The apartment building was painted a different color and the memories are hazy and befuddled (painting will do that). Yet I recall. Everything.
The years zipped by. My parents were visiting me in Eastchester (where I had the pleasure to live for a short while), and more notebooks appeared, straight from Italy, in the bright, cheery colors of my childhood. My mother (then, later, my sister) wrote down recipes for me, in the elegant, flourished script I grew up with.
And here they are, on my kitchen table, the paper yellowing, more brittle than I’d like, but carefully preserved. I gently touch the pages, the writing, the faded ink, feeling their energy while they were writing them, the pen moving swiftly, decisively on the graph paper, every letter fitting neatly in a tiny square.
I’m translating them for you, dear readers, braving the chills that shudder through my body.
Because I hear my mother’s voice, her Northern accent mingling with the Neapolitan she had been living with for decades. My unique, witty, passionate, charming mother.
And I have it too, the Cucchiaio d’argento, a newer edition, red cover, my ‘new’ name written proudly by a younger, naïve and hopeful me. I cherish it of course. She gave it to me. Once upon a lifetime ago. Grazie, mamma.