A few days ago I was thinking about what to make for dinner. Thumbing through a cookbook, I saw a recipe for homemade pasta. It brought back the same memory that always accompanies homemade pasta. I thought about my grandmother’s gnocci.
Some people call them potato dumplings but to me they’re pasta. We ate them in all the ways people eat pasta, with all the same sauces and toppings. My grandmother made the dough, kneaded it then divided it into smaller portions. On a floured wooden surface she rolled each portion into long, thin ropes. After she cut the ropes into small pieces, it was my job to press down with my thumb on each one, making the indent that’s unique to these little pieces of delight. One of my most cherished memories is of helping my grandmother make gnocci. I say ‘cherished’ now but back then it was a different story.
The truth is, try as she did, my grandmother could not instill in me an appreciation for the domestic arts. I was much more interested in being outside, running around with my friends. I thought it was fun to eat gnocci but I had no desire to be stuck in the house making them while the world went by outside the window. It gave me the feeling I was missing something.
|My grandmother, circa 1950|
Now I realize I was missing something by running out the door so quickly. I have no idea what my grandmother’s recipe for gnocci was. I’ve found some good ones online and they suffice, I suppose, but I wish I could tell you how she made that dough. Like so many great cooks of her generation, my grandmother did not write down her recipes. She cooked from memory. I’m sorry to say the recipe for that gnocci dough is not in my memory.
One recipe isn’t so big a deal but the principle applies to so many things, especially collecting and writing a family history or memoir. People’s memories go with them and no one has forever. So if the idea of writing a family history appeals to you, don’t wait. Start now, while the thought is fresh, collecting those stories and writing them down.
If you have memories of being in the kitchen with your grandmother or your mother or your aunts, that’s a great place to start. Think about the aromas, the tastes, the conversations that made up those experiences. Maybe that’s where you heard many of the great stories you know about your family. Working together seems to loosen people’s tongues, particularly when it happens around food.
Wherever your memories are centered, make sure they’re not lost. Take the time to collect them and to write them down. It’s admittedly difficult in this busy life to find the time to reflect and to record those stories but the rewards are more than worth the effort. It might help to start by carving out ten minutes at the beginning or at end of your day. If you do that on a regular basis you’ll have a good amount of material in a short time.
Don’t lose the perfect recipe or the perfect story. Write it down so everyone can have a taste.