Pinch of Faith: The family recipe that feeds fond memories

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Photo courtesy of Wikimedia Commons

I never had any desire to become a teacher, although I majored in Home Economics in college and accepted the fact that teaching that subject to unaware young people was going to become my profession. 

As luck would have it, hundreds of would-be pupils were spared that trauma when I got married and accepted a position with the city government as a clerk typist. Although not a speed demon at the keyboard or having a desire to hang out in the file room, those skills far exceeded my bound buttonholes and chocolate mousse experiences. The universe breathed a huge sigh of relief, and I confined my homemaking aptitudes to my own existence.

That all changed a few weeks ago when I decided to pass the family torch onto the next generations. 

When I was in my 30s, my late Sicilian grandmother allowed me to assist her in the “great ravioli project” that had been passed down to her by her mother. Grandma kept the recipe a closely guarded secret for her entire life and once any of the females in the immediate family was deemed trustworthy enough, we got to participate in the entire process.

My mother, two older cousins, and my aunts had been initiated into the sisterhood for many years, but it was not until my husband, and I decided to serve authentic Italian cuisine to members of our dinner club that I was permitted to experience the process firsthand. It had long been a family tradition to serve Grandma’s homemade ravioli at our Christmas gathering every year, so I wanted that to be our main course for our dinner party.

Grandma made me a grocery list, and I diligently gathered everything she requested and had it ready the day we started the undertaking. She brought her hand cranked pasta machine, some white bed sheets, her apron, rolling pin, wheel of parmesan cheese, and a giant can of imported Italian olive oil that she ordered by the case several times per year. The pasta machine was a huge improvement over her original hand rolling of the dough. 

It was not until we got underway that I learned this was going to be a two-day process. We would make the filling on day one, let that “season” in the refrigerator overnight and make the dough early the following day. I thought this was a bit excessive but was later to learn we needed every second in those two labor intensive days.

We minced, fried, steamed, drained, grated, and mixed the ingredients in the largest stainless-steel bowl I had ever seen. Grandma kept it hanging from a giant hook on the wall going to her basement for just such occasions.  

I offered her a wooden spoon, but she declined. “You have to mix it with your hands, so you get the feel of it and know what and how much to add to make it the right consistency,” she scolded.  

We scrubbed our hands and dove in until she deemed it ready. Because that baby bathtub sized bowl would not fit, we divided it up into three smaller vessels before stowing it safely in the refrigerator.

As planned, we mixed the flour and other ingredients for the dough on the following day and then wrapped it in plastic wrap to rest while we assembled the pasta maker. Grandma would roll the dough into small strips and then pass it through the rollers until it became paper thin and ready to fill, top and cut into squares.  The white bedsheets were spread on every available flat surface to allow the completed ravioli to “dry” before they could be frozen.

That was many years ago, and I am still recuperating, but was determined that my family should learn this art.

I packed up my giant mixing bowl, apron, rolling pin, Grandma’s ravioli cutter, strips of white sheets, and the treasured recipe in Grandma’s distinct handwriting and met children and grandchildren in my daughter-in-law’s spacious kitchen.  

Everyone got in on the process, and I sensed her spirit among us. Italian music and some vino added to the ambiance of the memorable day.  

With the use of a dough hook on an electric mixer, we streamlined the dough process considerably but after seven hours of labor-intensive work, our net yield was 48 ravioli. We had an abundance of filling and dough, but our energy level was depleted.

I finished the project in my own small kitchen the following day and filled our freezer with the makings of an unforgettable Christmas meal. I have passed the torch, and pray it will stay lit.

Copyright © 2022 Mary Margaret Lambert

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