This past Easter Sunday, both of my grandmothers were cooking with me, even though they've been gone for several years. No, I don't believe in ghosts. But, by cooking their recipes, I know they were there with me in culinary spirits. I made my Grandma's Italian Easter Bread (which turns out was actually ex-first-lady of NY Matilda Cuomo's recipe), and my Grammy's Deviled Eggs. Recipes for both all the way at the bottom!
At my bridal shower, my mom gave me a gift that instantly induced a sob fest: albums of both of my grandmothers' recipes, photocopied from their own handwriting. I love these albums so much, because they so perfectly capture both of my grandmothers.
Grandma Rita lived in Long Island (excuse me, Lawng Island), the daughter of Italian immigrants. As you might imagine, every visit to New York was a stream of meatballs, pasta, and escarole. Grandma cooked everything by heart. In fact, most of the food I remember her making (frittata, spaghetti pie, manicotti) is nowhere to be found in my recipe book! Luckily, my mom learned her world-famous meatball and gravy recipe, and my mom taught me. The handwriting from her recipes is barely legible, and captures her outsize personality. She improvised when she cooked, and was famous for tasting raw meatballs to make sure the spice mix was right.
Grammy Joan lived in the Philly burbs, like my family. She was Pennsylvania Dutch in heritage (basically German, for those of you not from PA). But, when I went to her house, there were no shoo-fly pies or anything vaguely German. In retrospect, I feel like Grammy was cooking from an invisible "Perfect American 1950s housewife" cookbook. Grammy had two famous recipes that she would make for every family gathering: deviled eggs and Jello salad. The Jello salad, like most of her recipes, is really a perfect relic of the time: no organic or artisanal ingredients, no spices beyond salt and pepper, or fresh vegetables to be found! Though, in Grammy's defense, the Jello salad is delicious. Also, my Grammy cooked from recipes and measured everything exactly every single time, even though she must have made deviled eggs 1200 times during her lifetime. And her cooking style echoed her fastidious personality, as did her perfectly neat handwriting in her recipe book.
Making my Grandma and Grammy's recipes reminds me that when we cook, it's so much more than fulfilling our human needs for fuel. It's a way to show love without saying a word. And of course this was lost on me as a young kid. But reflecting back, it's why the holidays felt extra special, and why I felt loved and secure sitting down to family dinner every night with my parents.
There are lots of reasons why we cook. For me, nutrition and health are a big part of it. Creativity and relaxation are another part of it. But also, I hope that the family and friends I cook for can feel the love. I'm not sure what I will pass down to my grandchildren, a printout of my "Food, Glorious Food" Pinterest Board? But I do know one thing for sure: Food is family.
Grandma Rita's Italian Easter Bread Recipe
Grammy Joan's Famous Deviled Eggs RECIPE
What about you? What are your famous family recipes? Share in the comments below!