A grandmother is a mother who has a second chance

Sunday, December 5, 2010

Another myth destroyed

I know what I'm going to say goes against common logic, but not all Italians are good cooks!!

My maternal grandfather, Papa Jim, was a true, old Italian cook with heavy sauces (gravy!), meats cooked until they fell off the bone, homemade pasta (macaroni to us), red wine. OK, there was about 1/4 inch of oil sitting on top of his sauce, but we could spoon that off. The taste was incredible.

Nani Gene, my grandmother, was another story. She had an amazing talent for taking the simplest recipe and destroying it! Two examples come to mind. One when I was about 11. We were having a family dinner at my grandparents house and Nani Gene had made a custard (at least we think that's what it was supposed to be) pie. When dinner was over, they asked me to go into the kitchen and get the pie. Nani Gene had already cut it into nice little wedges so all I had to do was carry it about 10 feet. Alas, being the graceful damsel I have always been, I tripped in the kitchen and the pie went toppling - little custard wedges bouncing around the floor. I panicked and quickly begin gathering up the pieces. Oddly, none of them even had a dent in them so I arranged them back into the pie tin and carried it (slowly this time) to the table. No one knew until several years later when I "fessed up" at another family dinner.

Later, as an adult, I was invited to my grandmother's house for dinner one night. She was going to serve Beef Stroganoff (a true Italian specialty!!). When I got there, she mentioned in passing that she discovered she didn't have the right kind of beef in the freezer so she used neck bones! Now, I don't know about your families but for some reason neck bones were big in mine. Must have been one of those "I grew up in the Depression" things. But I have vivid memories of my mother, aunt, and grandmother gnawing away on those dang neckbones at family functions. Disgusting. Anyway, back to dinner. which turned out to be a lovely "Bones and Rice" covered with Cream of Mushroom Soup. Yup, them's good eatin' !

My mother was an incredible cook. A lot of very Italian items, plus she would create her own great recipes. Of course, nothing was written down - just a pinch of this and a handful of that. She was the type of person who could create a wonderful meal at the drop of a hat with just what was around the house. Wish I had that gift!

Her sister, my aunt, definitely took after Nani Gene. Well, she did make a few things really well. But she had this obsession with germs and felt that cooking things A LOT would kill all of the germs! So much of what she made was overcooked and dry. Also, another post-Depression thing (I think) was not wasting even one kernel of corn. So when she would make a casserole, it would not only be dry and overcooked, but it would have a little bit of everything in it which is not always a good thing.

But the most famous (infamous?) thing my aunt did was one Thanksgiving. My cousin was visiting his mom for the holiday and when we went to get some candied yams, he noticed brown spots. He asked her what that was and she said brightly, "Those are Hershey's Kisses!" Ken said, "Mom, why did you put Hershey's Kisses in the yams?" She informed him that it was his favorite and that she always did that for him. Um, no. Not the case. So, from that holiday forward, they gave her a break and didn't let her cook anymore.

Well, time to go start dinner. Wonder if they still sell neckbones?!?


Lisa said...

Neck bones? Oh my! I guess they'd say it adds "good flavor"? ;-)

My paternal grandmother always made those bone dry pot roasts too. I guess she didn't want to undercook it? I didn't like pot roast for years! I say she should have used wine in it. Wine makes almost all food better!

Mellodee said...

I think that most of our contemporaries (i.e., early Baby Boomers) have similar foods that their parents made which had their origin in the Depression. Some were decent tasting once you got past what it actually was made of!! (i.e. Neck Bones!! eww) My gram had 11 kids to feed so there were all sorts of oddities that remained in the family for YEARS! One of the things she did a lot was to extend the amount of certain foods by adding crumbled saltines into different kinds of veggies (i.e. leek, stewed tomatoes, some others I can't recall.) Didn't taste half bad either. In fact the leek dish is a holiday tradition that my family loves.

I remember my mom refused to eat lamb up to the day she died. Evidently, it was cheap and they used it a lot back then. It wasn't until years later that she realized that it wasn't lamb that her mother cooked. It was mutton. And mutton is a stringy, gamey, unpleasant meat. I think I'm really glad that never made it to our table!

namaste said...

"...not all Italians are good cooks!!"

blaspheme! you bite your tongue!

i guess i've romanticized Italy and made her synonymous with cooking for years.

btw, my mom was big on chewing those neckbones too. not pretty.


Desert Diva said...

We grew up on "country" favorites - fried chicken, mashed potatoes, etc... However, my mom would sometimes make a round steak in the electric skillet with carrots and potatoes.

Luz said...

Happy to say that neckbones were never a part of our dinners but I have a good friend whose mom fixes them all the time and for the life of her she just can't understand what's the point?! ;-)

kate said...

Oh, those neckbones had me laughing out loud!