On the other hand, my paternal grandmother, Tess, was in full possession of the Italian Grandmother Cooking Gene. As a child I loved her cooking more than anyone else's. I can remember my other grandparents asking me, "What does she make that's so good?" She never made anything super special. She made the stuff you might always expect in an Italian-American household. She made chicken cutlets and spaghetti and meatballs and pot roast, and lasagna. I couldn't tell you why, but somehow I thought her cooking always tasted superior. Maybe it was because she added more fat to the food than my mother or maternal grandfather did.
Grandma was one of those typical Italian grandmothers who worried if you didn't eat huge amounts (must be why my father, brother, and I carry around a bit of extra pudge on us). She hated to see me not eat, so she made sure that there was plenty of the stuff I liked and left the yucky food to those who ate it. It was just as well I didn't like vegetables in those days, because she wasn't very good with veggies (overcooked them to death as most women in her generation did) but she always had carrot sticks for me and cucumbers for my cousin Todd. She wasn't much for desserts and rarely baked. Desserts were often store-bought cakes and ice cream or the occasional homemade cheesecake. But she had her own deep-fryer and sometimes made us homemade zeppoli.
I used to love it when she hosted Christmas Eve. Unlike Grandma Carol, she was no insistent that I choke down some kind of seafood. She always made chicken and fish-free pasta for me on the Feast of the Seven Fishes.
She hasn't been doing much cooking in recent times. Her health has not been good and she's been in assisted living or nursing care for the past six years. She kept cooking as long as she could. I think one of the last big meals she hosted and cooked for the family was one of the best. She cooked every classic Italian-American dish out there: Baked ziti, stuffed peppers, chicken parmigiana. She served it buffet style rather than family style as she normally did because she had made so much food. I can still remember how we all marveled at it. We feasted. We understood just how much we loved her cooking.
She didn't teach me much, or pass much wisdom on to me sadly. She did like having me in the kitchen talking to her while she cooked though, unlike most of my other family members. Sometimes she'd talk to me about what she was doing. One time she taught me how she made meatballs. I can remember rolling them with her. She told me to go home and tell my mother I made a meatball.
Grandma died earlier today. She had been in nursing care for a couple of years and has given the family several scares when the doctors were sure she wouldn't pull out of it. She pulled out of it enough times that I think we all got too comfortable. Perhaps this was her way of keeping people from gathering around her when she died. I can remember visiting her one of the first times she was at death's door. She became coherent and saw all of us gathered around her bed and she demanded "What are you waiting for?" Her vision and hearing were bad and she really couldn't walk anymore. I'm sure her quality of life was not great, but she tried to hang on for a while.
It's not as if I didn't expect this, but it's tough to think I'll never see her again. I'll never eat her cooking again either.
I should make some meatballs in her honor.
The only picture I could find. Tess is the one on the left. Carol is on the right.