Some food is just food. It fills the hole and doesn’t really satisfy–just makes you “un-hungry.”
But there are some foods that are “a moment.” The taste, the smell, the “experience” of these foods brings about a whole different pacification of hunger.
I was reminded of this when I was again awakened to the cavalcade of memories that descended upon me as I ate the four basic food groups of Thanksgiving: Turkey, Stuffing, Mashers, Corn.
Separate or all on one fork, that is one great combination!
It zoomed me back to my childhood. I can feel my grandmother’s hand on my shoulder and I recall her smile as she loaded my plate high and said to my mother, “God bless him, let him eat.”
All the elders in my family had experienced enough of the Depression that they got great satisfaction when watching children eat their fill. That was more than OK with me.
Food is such a link to emotions, memories, and the holidays of the past.
Here’s my bucket list of foods a person must “experience” before they are toothless and eating tapioca as a preferable highlight to their weekly menu of oatmeal.
1. You must have a hot dog with one line of Stadium Mustard drawn across it at some point in your life.
There must be a frosty cold beer in the other hand, and you should preferably be standing in the sun in a dusty ballpark. Smell the fresh cut grass? Feel that summer breeze? You pull all of those elements together and you really have a food moment.
2. Now how about a tall cup of coffee on a winter morning?
I prefer a little cream, but not so much that you ruin the taste of the coffee; just a splash. And as you set that tall boy down, you pull a handsome cinnamon roll out of the bag. Now bite that roll and chase it with that scalding coffee.
These are served best from a picnic table while you are standing in snow and selling Christmas trees for the local church or while you stand by your car and watch your kids go sledding.
I don’t have to remind anyone that the heart (center) of the cinnamon roll is the best bite. It should be fully and selfishly devoured or given to someone you really love. I don’t love many people that much.
3. A real breakfast fry-up is next on the list.
My lifelong buddy who lived across the street since I was born had relatives all up and down the block. His widowed grandma used to make our breakfast on Saturdays after we cut and stacked wood for her fireplace and shoveled her sidewalks. It has become my definition of breakfast ever since.
She would fry up Canadian bacon until it was crisp all around the edges, fry potatoes until they were golden brown, and crack a couple of eggs in the grease that was made from both. These would be served over thick toasted slices of farm-fresh white bread.
After we downed that, she’d bring homemade jams and jellies to the table and we’d eat more toast with fresh coffee and freshly squeezed orange juice.
As we sat at her steel card table, I’d look around at the yellowed newspaper clippings and recipes that adorned the refrigerator, the faded picture of her long departed husband in his Berea Bus Line uniform, and her multiple aprons that hung from a hook next to the broom closet.
Her stories filled my head with the simplicity of the past, and often I’d look at her wrinkled features and she’d wink, knowing I was studying her face.
“Don’t worry,” she’d say, “you may only be 12 years old, but I’ll dance at your wedding.”
She didn’t make it, but she did sit with me at another family wedding–of which she did not approve. The groom had no sooner said, “I do,” than she leaned to me and said, “Betcha a nickel he’s sorry.” They were divorced within two years of that day.
She knew a lot and had a heart of gold–and she made a heckuva breakfast.
4. Now what would an article like this, written by this little Italian sentimentalist, be worth without discussing pasta, right?
Now remember, I’m 100 percent purebred so, of course, were my mom and grandma. But I MARRIED a purebred, too, and the one thing all traditional Italian women take pride in is their sauce–or “gravy” as my brethren call it in New York. So I gotta be careful here–please understand. Forget about it.
Over the years, my research has revealed that all three of them cook very akin to their Italian regions. My wife’s family comes from Naples, my mother’s from Calabria and Abruzzi. Those influences are very distinct.
Grandma and Mom’s sauce were heavier, thicker, and their aroma filled the air so that you could smell them outside. My wife’s sauce is thinner, cleaner, and more subtle. Each is unique, and I like them all, but each conjures up different memories, different emotions.
Grandma hasn’t been around since the early 1980s. I can still “taste” her sauce in my mind, and it makes me miss her when I think about it.
Mom’s was the taste of home–the emotion of safety, time with my sisters, parents, the family dog sleeping by the fireplace.
And when I taste my wife’s, it is the taste of MY home, the life I have made with my wife and children and our big extended Italian family. It is home and hearth. It is love, and it is wonderful.
No matter what your heritage, there are special foods and meals. Embrace the difference that makes you and yours unique! Do yourself a favor and attach those memories permanently in your mind. It’s a piece of the puzzle that should be treasured.
Bon appetit! Vive la difference!
Ron Ciancutti is the Purchasing Manager for Cleveland Metroparks. He is not on Facebook, but he can be reached at email@example.com.