Saturday, November 12, 2011

Weekend Cooking -Remembering the Nonas

Beth Fish Reads sponsors this weekly meme where we foodies can chat about cookbooks, cooking gadgets, recipes, or anything else gustatory. Be sure to stop over there to find other terrific weekend cooking posts.

Smart cooks realize that the easiest cookbook to use is the Yellow Pages and the handiest appliance in the kitchen is the telephone. ~ Miss Piggy

If you don't do Yellow Pages, phones or Take-Out Taxi, you can still rely on your Nona. One of my fondest memories is having my grandmother pull a fresh fig off the tree, break it open, and stuff the inside out fruit dripping with sweetness and juice into my mouth, and then show me how to lick my chin to catch it all. So I don't think she would have thought much of Miss Piggy's philosophy.To my grandmother, food was life.  Not just the preparation and serving, but the growing, harvesting, preserving, and to a lesser extent the shopping, kept her going.  In fact, although I have fond memories of rolling, squeezing, peeling, chopping, cutting, tasting, picking from the garden. I don't think I ever went shopping with her until I was in my late 20's when  my sister brought her for a visit from Baltimore to Long Beach California where we were living.  We were having good some Navy friends to dinner and Nona wanted to make gnocchi.  Off we went to shop.  She made little turned up nose faces at much of the produce, and almost all of the meats, but we managed to get enough decent (but certainly not perfect) ingredients.

So I really appreciated the sentiment and story in this memoir cum cookbook celebrating food as a way of life.  The residents of the town of Campodimele Italy, a small town in the mountains between Naples and Rome, are noted for their longevity.  Tracey Lawson, an English teacher who had been living in Tuscany heard of the village and set out to learn more.  As she says on the back cover:
I came to Campodimele hoping I might learn how to live longer, but discovered something much more important -- how to live well.
 For over three years, she visited with the residents, was allowed into their pastures, their gardens, their vineyards, their olive orchards, their kitchens, their cantina, and their hearts.  By observing, then working as she was instructed, she was able to see the value in living off the land, eating seasonally, but still preserving the bounty for times when fresh was not available.  She pressed olive oil, made sausage, shelled beans, picked various greens, made goat cheeses, rolled pastas, and climbed mountain roads with 80 and 90 years old residents to tend the goats, pick the olives, and call the hens home at night to roost.

Her month by month description of food, recipes and traditions brought back many memories of the Italian kitchen of my Nona, and gave me a deeper understanding and appreciation of the hows and whys of many of the foods.  It held a few surprises.  The inhabitants of Campodimele, who regularly live well into their 90's, use very little salt, but are very generous with peperoncino, a red chili pepper they grow, dry and sprinkle liberally on everything.  I don't remember that ingredient in my grandmother's repertoire, (although my mother assures me that the shaker of red pepper flakes was ALWAYS on Nona's table) and she did love her salt.  It's a perfect example of regional differences.  Each area used what grew well there and was readily available.

Subtitled The Lifestyle of Longevity in Campodimele, Italy, it's a treasure of a book - particularly if you love Italian food, have an Italian ancestor, or just want to learn, as Lawson says, "to live well."  It's yummy, it's interesting, and it's a definite plus for your food collection.  Even if you don't want to try the recipes, the philosophy of living off the land, living simply, and looking at your food as an enjoyable gift will light up your reading and eating day.


  1. I love books that connect us to people and places in our past, and this one sounds very useful as well. Great review!

  2. If we could go back to this lifestyle instead of ingesting all the over processed and chemical laden food we find in the grocery stores, we would be a lot better off. You are so fortunate to have memories of a Nona like yours.

  3. the idea to eat natural so ties in with my post this week. lol


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