The First Burn Hurts the Most

Nana is now 101 years old. We commemorated the birthday of my wonderful grandmother, who was born May 12, 1910. She came from Naples, Italy to New York in 1928; married, had four children, ten grandchildren, eight great-grandchildren and one great-great grandson.

For 55 years she has taught me all I need to know about life and love through her cooking and her life.

Nana was an amazing cook who never measured ingredients; everything was done by feel, smell and taste. It was always perfectly delicious!

Every Sunday Nana made pot of meat gravy that could feed an army! It’s the first recipe she taught me. To non-Italians it’s called spaghetti sauce. I’m talking about the rich, red, basil and tomato nectar that is the staple of every Italian household and we called it gravy. I was five years old and I remember it well.

I can still see the kitchen in my mind’s eye. The chrome table and chairs. The big five-burner gas stove, the double-sink, the porcelain refrigerator with the rose decal on it with the tiny freezer that always filled with ice. And I can still see Nana standing at the stove with her apron on so as not to ruin her Sunday church-going dress.

I remember that first time I helped her like it was yesterday. I remember going down to the kitchen one Sunday morning to the smell of her gravy simmering on the stove. The Italian radio station was playing and she was humming to her music. I asked her if I could help; actually I said “I wanna cook too”. She pulled the kitchen chair up to the stove so I could stand next to her. She gave me a wooden spoon that was probably as tall as me, and I used it to stir the gravy as she added her herbs and spices, meatballs, sausage, bragioli and chunks of beef. Sometimes she even added spare ribs and chicken!

Nana told me to be careful; don’t touch the pot because it was hot. You tell me what five-year old is going to listen when the excitement of cooking with my beloved grandmother was so overwhelming!

Well, as I was stirring the gravy, I got too close and burned my wrist. The pain was more than I could bear and I cried more than 96 tears! Nana took me off the chair and put butter on the burn. Yes, in those days butter cured the common burn!

After my tears had dried, and I’d gotten a hug and a kiss, she gave me a meatball, and one for my brother Jeffrey and sent me to the livingroom to watch cartoons.

Needless to say, it didn’t dissuade me from continuing to cook by Nana’s side. In fact, it made me even more determined to cook with her.

As this blog develops, I will post recipes I learned from her as I share the most wonderful memories of growing up in Brooklyn in Nana’s Neapolitan Kitchen.

I hope you’ll visit again.