En español | 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.
Courtesy of Cynthia Cima-Ivy
Noni fed everyone. There were plates of savory polpette (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 back porch.
We had pesto before it became fashionable and ubiquitous. Family lore had it that during the Great Depression, 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.
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Cynthia Cima-Ivy is a reader from Menlo Park, Calif.
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