My Aunt Ida is on Facebook. This is not an obvious fact. Sixty-plus years old aunties do not easily get on Facebook in rural Umbria. However, Ida is a very special person in our family. Despite her busy professional life, travel and family commitments, she has always been the soul of the legendary gastronomic parties we attended throughout my childhood.
I can hardly remember entering her house without perceiving the aroma of some delicacy simmering on the stove or in the oven. She has introduced the family to tiramisu back in the ’70, to the then rare smoked salmon, to a turkey terrine dotted with morsels of black truffle I still dream about. She made cannoli shells. This is an infernal operation involving paper thin dough stretched along stainless steel tubes dropped in boiling hot oil. Aunt Ida thank you, you’re my ever smiling stove-top hero.
Children of our family have not always been so spoiled for choices. At the end of the XIX century, my great grandparents were hazelnut farmers in Librizzi, a little mountain village one hour drive from Messina in Sicily.
My mother, now 80, remembers that the hazelnuts were so important that the crop of the year were guarded in a room inside the house, not in a storage outside. In her rare visits to the paternal grand parents there were no treats for the kids, may be an egg, fresh or cooked. This must have been around the 40s and people was too busy working in the fields to take care of entertaining the guests.
The hazelnuts were sold to local merchants who in turn sold them to bakeries or to peddlers. At village fairs the hazelnuts were toasted and made into threads so if my mom was lucky she would get to walk around with her “necklace” of nuts. They were happy kids even without the plasticized confusion of modern holidays.
I find it so impressive that – in a very Proustian way - memories are so often linked with a taste, an aroma, an offering of food. The chit chat is forgotten, the beautiful holiday clothes have gone to rags, trees have grown, loves have changed. How amazing though, that eating something good, in a special moment, can be with us forever.