Photo Journal: An Italian family tradition – tomato sauce making day

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My father’s parents are salt-of-the-earth people. They are humble, kind, generous almost to a fault, and incredibly self-reliant, even as they grow older. Each year, my father’s parents pay tribute to the generations that came before them and honor their (my; our) Italian heritage by bringing in a truckload of tomatoes, and making and bottling their own tomato pasta sauce. It’s an age-old tradition still followed by many Italians, all over the world; even when we immigrate to new lands, we don’t leave our traditions behind. They make hundreds of bottles from thousands of tomatoes, with the help of my dad and auntie, and often a few friends and other relatives. They work under the eagle eyes of my grandparents, and while everyone has a good time, the sense of duty and respect is palpable.

 

Recording memories, through blogging, photographing and journaling, has always been incredibly important to me, and as my grandfather closes in on 90 years old, the realization that this beautiful tradition won’t go on forever under his watchful eye has really hit home. I initially took my camera along this year, with the intent of capturing as many wonderful memories as I could, both for myself and the generations of my family to come. Then, I realized a far greater thing would be to share these precious memories with others.

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Cook this: Nonna Gemma’s buttery, salty French toast

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I miss my grandmother. It still feels weird to talk about her in the past tense, that she doesn’t “exist” anymore. I don’t like writing that she “was” a big part of my life; she still is. She helped raise me. She taught me to knit and hand stitch in her sewing room. She taught me to pick out good produce at the market, and cook it like a pro. She made outfit after outfit for me, including the veil I wore on my wedding day. She gave me crap for my ripped jeans, asking if they needed mending, and telling me I looked ridiculous. She always started phone conversations by asking if I’d eaten (no, it’s not some Italian joke, she legit asked every time), and how Marley, my dog, was going. After she’d told me off for not answering my phone earlier in the day (sorry Nonna, I’ve been at work. “Why?!” was her response, most of the time – I could never tell if she was serious or not).

Anyway, I married a teacher, so I observe the comings and goings of the school terms. With the mention of the school term about to end, a memory filled my head and took over for a second, like one of those crazy movie flashbacks… I was a primary school aged kid again, at Nonna’s house. I’d usually stay at her house a few nights every school holidays, so we could just hang out together and do stuff that mum wouldn’t let me do. I was sitting at the bench in the kitchen, on the wooden stool you can see in the picture below, where we had breakfast together, watching her cook French toast for us. And I felt my soul crack a little. It’s cracking again right now, as I type this.

Nonna would work SO intently at her little stove top, making sure our breakfast was just right. Everything had to be perfect for her grand children, especially the food. Our favourite breakfast was French toast, made with thick, fresh Italian bread, cooked in an absolutely ludicrous amount of butter, with more than a sprinkle of salt. It was always perfectly crispy and golden without ever burning. She was a master, really.

Yes, it’s indulgent, and no, it’s not going to benefit your health to eat this regularly. But sometimes when your soul is crying out for a hug, comfort food is where it’s at. Here’s my best attempt to re-create Nonna’s French toast.

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It was pretty simple – a few eggs and milk whisked together, dip the bread in (I went a la Nonna and used a loaf of Italian bread, bought from the Preston market, sliced myself with the crusts removed) and fry up on a non-stick pan containing a small ocean of butter. And yes, I added some fruit to try to justify all of the butter and carbs. If you need a pick me up too this weekend, whip yourself up a plate of this buttery deliciousness this weekend – trust Nonna Gemma, it’ll make you happy!

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