Today’s food story is provided by Deborah Tomasetti Perham of A Lifetime Legacy. Being a personal/family historian, Deb is acutely aware of how food is tied to culture and relationships so she was gracious enough to provide a great food story and recipe from her own personal archives.
While attending the Association of Personal Historians conference just last week, participants were called upon to share “food stories.” Well, I was first up. I recalled my husband and my first holiday together at my in-law’s home (I’m an “I”talian girl married to an Irishman). My mother-in-law asked everyone to bring a dish. Well, big shot that I am, I showed up with a special recipe from the best cook I knew…Gaetana Parrini Tomasetti (my paternal grandmother). I carefully and proudly prepared Grandma’s stuffed artichokes. I presented my dish at my in-law’s house, and it was received with…blank stares. The silence seemed eternal. Finally, my youngest brother-in-law (one of seven), with shock in his voice, inquired: “What’s that?” “What’s that??! It’s stuffed artichokes!” “What’s an artichoke?” What’s an artichoke?? WHAT’S AN ARTICHOKE??! It’s a staple in every Italian household. I looked over at my perfectly stuffed artichokes. Sitting on the table next to them was pot roast where lamb should be, mashed potatoes where lasagna would normally be, pearl onions where I would typically see stuffed mushrooms. Something called mashed turnips. What’s an artichoke? WHAT’S A TURNIP?! Well, no one ate my stuffed artichokes that day (except me). But in all honesty, I didn’t eat ANY turnips. Although I will confess, just last Thanksgiving (2012) I *tasted* them. Keep in mind our first holiday together was 32 years ago, so it took me some time to get used to the idea of a turnip. (I still haven’t tried the creamed pearl onions.) That’s okay. My in-laws still haven’t ever tasted a stuffed artichoke.
Once I came to terms with the fact that all families have their own style of cooking, I recognized my mother-in-law was an exceptional cook. Sadly my dear mother-in-law passed away in 2004. We took all her recipes (in her handwriting) and compiled a cookbook, making copies for each family member: “Cooking with Grandma Far-Away” (“Grandma Far-Away” lived about 50 miles from us. My mom – just plain “Grandma” – lives about 3 miles from us.)
Tonight we prepared one of my mother-in-law’s favorite recipes “Mom’s Best Macaroni Dish.” Here’s a picture and the recipe. Notice the ladle. THAT ladle belonged to my *maternal* grandmother. When she passed away, I promised myself I would use that ladle whenever we served a pasta dish. Did I just say “PASTA”? I mean “MACARONI”! After all, Thanksgiving is right around the corner, and it’s all about the food…chow.
“MOM’S BEST MACARONI DISH”
- 1 box of elbow macaroni – cooked
- 1.5 lbs ground beef
- 2 large onions
- 1 stalk of celery
- 2 cans of whole tomatoes
- 5 green peppers, sliced
- 2 tbs Parmesan cheese
- ½ tsp oregano
- Salt and pepper to taste
Brown ground beef. Drain off grease. Remove to bowl. In pot where ground beef was browned, sauté onions and celery till tender. Return ground beef to pot. Mix in rest of ingredients, except peppers and macaroni. Cook 30 minutes. Add peppers. Cook another 30 minutes. Mix in macaroni. Put mixture into an oven-proof casserole dish. Sprinkle some breadcrumbs and extra Parmesan cheese on top. Bake 350 degrees F until bubbly. Enjoy!
Americans, more than any other culture on earth, are cookbook cooks; we learn to make our meals not from oral tradition, but from a text. The just-wed cook brings to the new household no carefully-copied collection of the family’s cherished recipes, but a spanking new edition of the Fannie Farmer, or The Joy of Cooking” –John Thorne, American food writer