; In the Know
WHAT I REALLY KNOW
About Grandma’s Cooking
By Cynthia Cima-Ivy, Menlo Park, Calif.
My grandmother—my Noni—was a modest woman,
her white hair pinned in a bun and her dress buttoned at the
collarbone. She spoke broken English, and food was how she
communicated her love. We gathered in her kitchen in waves
after each successive Sunday Mass let out. The cacophony of
voices of aunts, uncles and cousins, along with the aroma of
food, made it a feast before
we had taken one bite.
Noni fed everyone. There
were plates of savory pol-
pette (breaded fingers of
ground meat and potatoes),
hot slices of chewy focaccia,
crisp triangles of breaded
veal. In the fall she would
offer figs from her tree, sun-
dried in egg cartons on the
We had pesto before it
became fashionable and
ubiquitous. Family lore had
it that during the Great De-
pression, the pungent smell
of the pesto, thrown into the
minestrone, would draw itinerant rail riders walking across the
fields from the train tracks a quarter mile away. The hungry
men would always be fed.
My grandmother knew hunger as a child in Italy, and she treasured the bounty of food this country provided. She remained
thrifty and knew how to use all the cuts of meat, even the
“exotic” ones, and she always planted a vegetable garden.
At home we used the American system of measured volumes,
but Noni used the palm of her hand and the tips of her fingers.
As kids we had the exquisite pleasure of making the oil-holding
impressions in the flattened focaccia dough with our thumbs.
My son was born many years after my Noni died, but after his
braces were finally removed, he requested that we make Noni’s
focaccia. Her foods are part of her legacy to us. His hands are
bigger than mine now, but I will let him make the thumb holes,
and we will think of my grandmother. She is feeding us still.
Noni fed body and soul.
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