Cooking With Grandma Far-Away

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.

Artichokes - A Lifetime Legacy

Artichokes – A Lifetime Legacy

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 - A Lifetime Legacy

Mom’s Best Macaroni Dish – A Lifetime Legacy

“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
  • Breadcrumbs

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!

Deborah Tomasetti Perham – A Lifetime Legacy
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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

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What do you think?

  1. I love this story about mashing cultures together it was awesome :)
    And delicious recipe too!

    Cheers
    Choc Chip Uru
    Choc Chip Uru recently posted … Well… I’m OffMy Profile

  2. And now, the long-awaited artichoke recipe (after 12 hours of no electric from a nor’easter…electric finally back on…I’m able to post it). Enjoy.

    GAETANA PARRINI TOMASETTI’s STUFFED ARTICHOKE RECIPE
    (FROM THE “OLD” COUNTRY)

    Makes four

    Ingredients
    4 medium-large size artichokes
    ½-¾ c. seasoned bread crumbs
    4 tbsp. good, sharp Parmesan cheese
    2 heaping tsp. fresh oregano, finely chopped
    2 cloves garlic, chopped
    Olive oil
    Lemon

    1. Trim artichokes by cutting straight across the top of the artichokes (about an inch down) and cutting off the stems on the bottom.
    2. Using scissors. trim the pointy tips off each petal.
    3. Combine seasoned bread crumbs, Parmesan cheese, oregano, and garlic in a bowl. Moisten the breading with olive oil (this is key to keeping the breading moist).
    4. For each artichoke, loosen the petals by spreading them apart from the center, so it looks a flower. Fill in each petal with a little of the bread crumb mixture, pushing down into each petal. Don’t pack it too tightly. (Lighter is better.)
    6. Place the artichokes (stems down) sides touching each other, in a pot that fits them snugly so they don’t tip over.
    7. Fill the pot with an inch or two of water (up to the top of the lowest bottom leaf). Pour some olive oil into the water, NOT ON the choke. Squeeze some lemon juice into the water also (this keeps the chokes from browning). Put a slice of lemon on top of each artichoke. Cover with a lid, tilted so steam can be released. Steam the artichokes over medium heat for 1 hour until the petals can be pulled from the center of the choke without too much effort. Keep an eye out to make sure water remains in the pot. If it dries up, add more water.

    Enjoy the stuffed artichoke pulling out a petal at a time. Holding from the cut end, scrape the breading (with your teeth) along with the tender part of the petal. Discard the rest of petal of course, but keep the heart (the best part, in my opinion). If you’d like to eat the heart of the choke, after devouring the stuffed artichoke, clean out and discard the needles from the heart, sprinkle a little salt on the heart. Yum!

  3. Haha, “What’s an artichoke?!” Great story!

    I can completely relate to this, but from a healthy cooking standpoint. A lot of my dishes are met with those same blank stares. “What’s a spaghetti squash?” they ask. “What’s stevia?!”

    It’s fun to introduce people to new ingredients but also frustrating sometimes!
    Whitney recently posted … Sweet Potato Turkey Chili & Paleo Cornbread MuffinsMy Profile

  4. Good dish, better story. I didn’t face my first artichoke until I was just out of college. I had no idea how to eat it! That was quickly learned, though, and since then I’ve never looked back – one of my fave foods ever. Happy Thanksgiving!
    John recently posted … Frittata with Brussels SproutsMy Profile

    • Food Stories says:

      Oh the tales of the artichoke – I think we all have them ;-)

      Thx so much for stopping by & Happy Thanksgiving !!!

  5. My grandmother and mother have never been the cooks in the family, it’s always been my dad :) That being said, I just love the memories surrounding foods and get togethers! I cherish the moments so much… And I am so excited to create more memories this year!
    GiGi Eats Celebrities recently posted … A Thanksgiving TaleMy Profile

  6. Thanks so much for all your wonderful comments. I have a delicious recipe for stuffed artichokes (that involves lemons to keep them from browning). It’s the standard “old country” recipe, but there are some tricks to keeping the breading moist. I’ll dig it out and share it with you this afternoon, so keep watch. As you would imagine, I don’t make it very often. ;)

    Wishing everyone a scrumptious day!
    xo Deb

  7. Awww….that wasn’t nice….I bet it was their loss. But I am glad you made an exception for the turnip. Your MIL sounds like a lovely person though, despite not trying your artichokes. Great meeting you!
    Minnie recently posted … Nibble and toastMy Profile

  8. AngieG9
    Twitter:
    says:

    I love this story. My grandma’s on both sides of the family, as well as my mom taught me to cook the old fashioned way — a pinch of this, a palm full of that, a glug of something. I use recipes as a hint, rather than as a way to cook. Unfortunately, neither of my grandma’s wrote their “receipts” down, so I just have to try to remember what they are. As a result, nothing I make is the same every time, except for the dumplings my maternal grandma taught me to make. Even my mom can’t make these, so every Thanksgiving I am called on to make the dumplings. We tried to write the recipe down, but it’s really all in the cooking time, and that can’t be written down. You just have to go by how they look while they are cooking. Frustrating for the rest of the family, but only one brother watched me do it and has learned how to make them.

    • Food Stories says:

      I know exactly what you mean, Angie – So hard to recreate but a lot of fun trying – Thx for stopping by Food Stories :-)

  9. I love this story, and the recipe that goes with it. Though I’m sad that no one tried your artichokes!
    Ashley Bee recently posted … Balsamic Brussells Sprouts — Thanksgiving Day Side Dish Extrodinare!My Profile

    • Food Stories says:

      I know the feeling – Always a gloomy day when no one eats the food I made – Thx so much for stopping by :-)

  10. I love the story of how 2 cultures come together – like in most families these days. And you are a lovely story teller!
    Kalamity Kelli recently posted … No Bake Pumpkin Oatmeal CookiesMy Profile

  11. I love turnips (NOW), but the artichokes are what has caught my interest. In my Italian family everyone was a great cook, except my great Aunt Fil. But she made the best stuffed artichokes and no one has her recipe. Do you have a good recipe for them? I would love it. Thanks.
    angela recently posted … Retro Rose’s Legendary Stove Top Candied Sweet PotatoesMy Profile

  12. You are a great story teller. I love this tale of two food cultures. Happy Thanksgiving,
    Debra recently posted … Stick a fork in it…My Profile

  13. Thanks so much, CJ, for featuring my food story. My pal, Pam of Skinny Sweets Daily, is a big fan of yours. She recommended your site to me…and now I’m a fan, too. I’m looking forward to reading the great food stories and recipes posted here. Warmest regards, Deb

    • Food Stories says:

      Thanks so much for your kind words – So glad to have met you and loved your food story – Thx for sharing :-)

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