The story I want to tell you here is a tale of memories and flavours. Flavours which conjure up images of the past. It is the story of a large household, Giareto and takes us back to a time when streets were named after buildings.
It was 1977 when my grandmother bought a house in the Reggio hills together with her brothers and sisters. It was an old, run down farm house, clueless as to its fate and how it was destined to become a custodian of memories which would stand the test of time.
Each member of the family had their corner of the shed to tend over and contributed in their own way: the men worked and the women cooked, in both cases from dawn to dusk. We children also helped, in our own little way.
Early in the morning the broth was set on the stove for tortellini, a farmer friend would come over to deliver the tomatoes for next year’s comfit, children washed them in the courtyard, taking care not to get stung by bees or fall into the water. We weren’t all that careful and ended up in the water more frequently than you might imagine.
My mother made the mayonnaise in pin drop silence as dictated by superstition, to prevent it from separating. I would pour the oil in just the right way, at the slow rhythm I’d been taught, while my mother stirred the mayonnaise slowly.
If I close my eyes I can still hear: “Elena, come here, there's cheese to grate!”
The old graters were large and tiring and you had to be careful of your fingers. Parmigiano was very important and went into every dish: tortellini broth, starters together with salami, erbazzone dough because - as we said at Giareto - “if you have Parmigiano you’ve got all you need”.
“Is that enough yet?”, I’d ask but the answer was always no because we were a big family and there’s never enough cheese for thirty people. And there were always children to look after too, because they never stopped crying. The task was made longer by the fact that a little was grated, a little eaten. After all, how could I resist?
We the children were entrusted with another equally important task: sealing up the tortellini. Twisting the pieces of pasta around our little fingers - this was a task for the youngest children because the smaller the fingers, the neater the tortellini. It was work which required patience and my patience would soon run out so I'd go back to grating al furmai. No wonder we use a kitchen robot now.
One day Giareto was ready at last. Each family had its own apartment, but we all shared a single kitchen, meaning that we still cooked together, ate together. We'd discuss recipes, obey the rules but make exceptions, mediate whenever agreement appeared impossible.
All rules and opinions brushed shoulders in the Giareto kitchen. Years later, my cousin even got married here, leaving his new house in Romania for a few days to remind himself of those roast meats and green sauces, tortellini, charcuterie and, naturally, Parmigiano.
If it tastes good, it will make a good memory and it is with these memories in mind that I cook for my family and my friends today. Together with these dishes I bring to the table memories of a grazed finger, a sunny day and a sense of belonging that only cuisine can bring us, if we care to notice.
Also in Emilian Voices - Voci Emiliane
My name is Anna Lucia, but everyone calls me Anna. How old am I? I’m 90 years young.
I live in the place I was born: Reggio Emilia. I had a great childhood although the war is certainly ever present in my memories of it. My mother had to make bread every day, because after threshing the guards used to collect the wheat, leaving us with just a couple of ounces each. That’s why we had to be extremely careful not to waste anything. Those were years in which abundance was inconceivable, but we never starved...