I am Italian.
That means many things, not the least of which is that I am very picky about tomato sauce.
My love for Italian food has a deep-rooted history in a young lifetime of Sunday dinners. Sauce was to my family's table, as common as bread might be to another's. It's frequent performance however, made it no less spectacular or appreciated.
Over the years, I have made the acquaintance of many women who share my love for cooking. Not surprisingly, our conversations always turn to the topic of food.
Recently, while comparing personal reviews of local Italian restaurants with a co-worker, I was shocked to find out two things:
A) She favors the glass-jar variety of tomato sauce over all others (!).
B) (And most shocking) She is 100% Italian.
For a moment my brain simply refused to process this information.
In one split-second (the short time it takes to turn spaghetti
from al dente to glue), she had broken every rule I was raised to believe about Italians and food.
After further interrogation however, I discovered that this sauce (imitation by my standards) was her sauce. It was part of her history, the taste of her tradition, and the standard by which she compared all other sauces.
We were like-minded in this regard. We both compared every sauce to one particular sauce.
I have a black-belt in dining out and I can tell you, it is a rare occurrence for a restaurant entree of spaghetti and meatballs to receive my nod of approval. It is for this very reason that I rarely, if ever, make this simple standard my entree of choice. When it comes to good Italian fare, in my opinion, the sauce is boss. The meal is only as good as the sauce that covers it.
Make no mistake however, I don't pretend to be a qualified food critic, and quite frankly, my unbiased love for most foods (including but not limited to the cuisines of: home cooks, gourmands, street vendors, ball-parks, carnivals, shopping-mall-food-courts, and the occasional middle-school cafeteria) renders me totally incapable of making such evaluations.
In my opinion however, taste is more than just a sensory experience. In the case of tomato sauce, taste for me, is linked not only to my Italian heritage, but to a decades-long history of family gatherings, with my mother and her sauce-pot at the center of it all.
There is no mystery in the ingredients for her sauce and there is no secret method by which it is created.
Essentially, my mother is the standard by which
my sauce-appreciation-meter operates.
I'm sure that if mothers across the globe compared their recipes for basic tomato sauce, while the names might vary (years ago, I worked with a woman who referred to it as 'red gravy'), the ingredients would likely be very similar.
That is not to say however, that all sauces would taste alike (and none of course, would be as good as my mother's).
This brings me back to my conversation with my co-worker. Although I didn't share her appreciation for this particular variety of convenience foods, I completely understood her appreciation for its dependability. I learned that her reluctance to make her own tomato sauce was due, in part, to the fact that after several attempts her results were never as consistent as the glass-jar variety.
Still shocked at her admission, I replayed our conversation in my mind, over and over again. Oddly enough, it occurred to me that the very qualities for which she appreciates a convenience product (dependability and consistency), are in fact, the same qualities for which I admire my mother. She is by far, the most dependable person I know, and for as long as I have known her she has been consistent in all matters of love and cooking. Dare I make that connection?
I consider myself an experienced cook. So, imagine my frustration at my inability to replicate her sauce. Sisters, in-laws, and I have dissected the recipe, ingredients and process, right down to the type of metal from which her pots and pans are fashioned, to no avail. Our futile attempts may taste satisfactory but alas, they don't taste like hers.
For those of us who enjoy the occasional cooking show on TV, we've heard the likes of celebrity chefs (think Emeril & Paula) proclaim that love is, in fact a necessary ingredient in all matters of meal preparation. Which begs the question, can one really taste the love?
Is there no coincidence then, in the fact that some of the most popular Italian restaurants often bear the surname "Mama?"
Around here, 'Mama Lombardi's' and 'Mama Lisa's' draw hungry crowds night after night.
Perhaps it is because it brings us back to the image and flavors of our own mothers kitchen.
It conjures the thought that if someones mother made it, it has to be good, right?
And I suppose all of this may be chalked up to proverbial food for thought. But, if we disregard all methods of purchase or preparation, what was served at our family's table is truly what our own tradition tastes like. And whether we preserve tradition by replicating recipes or by sharing stories about our flavorful past, it is essential that we do so.
In the spirit of Thanksgiving and tradition, I hope you find the time to share the facts and flavors of your past with the ones you love.
So, I ask you, what does your tradition taste like?
Until Next Time,
Make Life Delicious
Share Your Food