Mar 202013
 

by Staci Troilo

Food traditions bring four generations into the kitchen.

Food traditions bring four generations into the kitchen.

Yes, the stereotypes are true. Italians turn to food for everything… we celebrate with it, commiserate with it, mourn with it. It should be no surprise that holidays in an Italian household are marked by the aroma of simmering tomato sauce, baking bread, and roasting meats. Tables will be laden with steaming soups, sautéed vegetables, trays of antipasti, and dozens of cookies and cakes. The most amazing part is that the meals are prepared by memory, the recipes passed down not on stained cards but at the elbows of mothers and grandmothers in crowded kitchens. And we wouldn’t have it any other way.

Food traditions include Italian Egg bread

The finished loaf is beautiful and festive

Easter is no exception. Every year since my first memory, my mother would take out her largest bowl on Good Friday and make Easter bread—a sweet dough, rich with egg. She taught me and my sister how to feed the yeast with the sugar, how to knead the mixture until it was smooth, how to bless the dough in Latin so it would rise. She had learned from my grandmother, and we learned from her. Once the dough had risen, we punched it down and let it rise again. And then we punched it down and let it rise again. Three times—for the three days between Christ’s death and resurrection. Then she taught us how to make cloverleaf rolls and braided loafs of bread, some of which we put eggs in. These eggs we’d color with food coloring, not dye, and we wouldn’t boil them first… the baking would cook them. They made the prettiest loaves. We’d refrigerate the rest of the dough for the next day.

Easter pizza Easter food traditions

Easter pizza: An Easter weekend tradition.

The following day, when we could eat meat, we’d take the leftover dough and make Easter pizza. We’d roll out a piece of dough and put it in the bottom of a pan like we were making pie. Then we’d fill the pizza with pepperoni, salami, ham, two kinds of capicola, hard boiled eggs, mozzarella cheese and ricotta cheese and put another piece of rolled dough on top. We’d put slits in the dough and brush it with an egg wash and bake it until it was golden brown and the cheese inside had melted. This was my favorite part of Easter… working with my family in the kitchen. We’d make an assembly line to complete the pizzas faster and then we’d distribute them to family and friends around town, saving a few for ourselves to eat during the holiday, and one or two to freeze and eat in the summer (what a treat!).

Making pizza dough

Rolling out the dough

I don’t live near my family any longer. But I’m teaching my kids to make the pizzas. We make the dough and bless the bread; we make an assembly line for the pizzas. But mostly, we talk about family tradition and how things used to be. I loved working alongside my mother—and sometimes even my grandmother—when I was young. That was how I learned the recipes, but that was also how I learned about my family and my culture. That was how I grew so close with my family. And that’s why, even though I live a thousand miles from home, I still talk to my mother every day. I still talk to my grandmother (who’s almost ninety-five) and my sister all the time.

Italians use food as a way to bring families together. I don’t live near my family any more, but every time I eat one of their recipes or share one with my children, it’s like we’re still together, like my ancestors are still with us. And isn’t that really what it’s all about?

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Staci Troilo grew up in Western Pennsylvania writing stories in poetry in her free time, so it was no surprise that she studied writing in college.  After receiving creative and professional writing degrees from Carnegie Melon University, she went on to get her Master’s Degree in Professional Writing, and she worked in corporate communications until she had children.  She went on to become a writing professor, and now she is a freelance writer living in Arkansas with her husband, son, daughter and two dogs.

Her fiction combines dark, dangerous heroes and strong, capable heroines woven together into a contemporary tapestry of tantalizing romance. Compelling villains and gripping mysteries engage the reader from page one of her novels and her short stories feature ordinary characters conquering the odds in extraordinary situations.

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  17 Responses to “Recipe for Posterity”

  1. Thanks so much for inviting me to your site today. It was kind of you to let me share one of our traditions with your online family.

  2. There was a relevant article in The New York Times a few days ago:

    This Life: The Stories That Bind Us
    http://www.nytimes.com/2013/03/17/fashion/the-family-stories-that-bind-us-this-life.html

    Looks like our family narratives serve more than an entertainment function.

    • I loved that article too. I highly recommend it!
      Thanks for mentioning it Edward and for visiting my site.

    • What a great article. I’m going to share it with my kids so they know there’s more to sharing our stories than just the warm fuzzy feelings we get when we talk about our family.

  3. One doesn’t need to be Italian or celebrate Easter to gain an enjoyable lesson from Recipe for Posterity. Thanks for sharing Laura.

  4. Hi,

    An excellent article. I am presently living in Germany and have the privilege to vacation often in Italy. I love the country and their way of thinking. I also had a beautiful Italian woman who adopted me into her heart. She was from Sicily, and I visited her often. She died last year in September and this Easter I will miss her. She cooked and prepared many favorite foods from her hometown, Catania, which were absolutely delicious.

    Ciao,
    Patricia

    • Patricia,
      I hope that when you do prepare the recipes she shared, warm memories will displace some of the loss. Thanks for sharing.

  5. Italians often “adopt” others as a way of showing affection. I’m glad the two of you made memories together, and I hope you can think of her fondly as you partake of the food she taught you to make. Thanks for sharing your story here.

  6. Staci, what a mouth watering post, and I so enjoyed how you shared your family heritage along with the recipes on such a special day. Families are the most important part of our lives and it’s enjoyable to share cooking, eating and history with them.

    • I’m glad you stopped by and enjoyed the memories and the recipes. The two go hand-in-hand in my family. With Easter right around the corner, it won’t be long until my family and I have the assembly line going and the stories flowing again. I hope you will have an equally enjoyable Easter season.

  7. […] “A Recipe for Posterity” by Staci Toilo. […]

  8. […] Trioio, who shared her Recipe for Posterity earlier this month,  has extended a generous invitation for me to guest post today on her blog.  […]

  9. […] Troilio shared her Easter food traditions with us in Recipe for Posterity. What are your little traditions? Do you get up and make cinnamon rolls from scratch every […]

  10. […] discussed the role of food in family traditions and childhood memories. Part of that importance stems from the relationship between smells and […]

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