Plant a seed this holiday season
Take a moment to remember a holiday from your childhood. My hope is that you can recall some magical memories that warm your heart. My memories not only fill my heart, but my stomach, and are centered on the family meal and the preparation.
My childhood in the Bronx is not your typical Bronx tale, but very similar to growing up on a farm. My grandparents, Alfredo and Felicia Oliva, owned a home on a corner lot plus the lot next door. Magic happened on that lot, in the cellar and in my grandmother’s small basement kitchen.
The lot was a garden of abundance or what Italians call “Abbondanza!” The front section was filled with a variety of colorful flowers. Walking the paths through the garden are some of my fondest memories outside of the kitchen.
Further back grew the vegetables including tomatoes, the queen of an Italian garden. There were many fruit trees and a full grape arbor. We had cherries, peaches and figs growing in the backyard. There was a huge stone barbeque that my grandfather built, a swing set and chickens. There is a vague recollection of the cockle-doodle-do of a rooster.
There would be huge gatherings of family, extended family, cousins and cousins of cousins and paesanos. Every Sunday felt like a holiday. If it was warm, we were outside in the backyard feasting. If it was cold, we feasted inside.
Feasting would not be an exaggeration, and everything was always fresh and homemade. How fresh? I remember walking into the cellar and grandma was slaughtering a chicken. The horror!
My brother and I would sit around a mountain of flour that my grandmother would crack eggs into and turn it into pasta dough. We rolled that dough into cavatelli with our little fingers. We would help make the homemade sausage, which would dry on the clothesline in the cellar.
Crates of grapes would magically end up in huge barrels in the wine cellar. The largest production of all was the homemade tomato sauce. There was no better place on earth than next to my grandmother in the garden or in the kitchen. These are all seeds that were planted in my memory.
Food was the centerpiece of the table. Our presence and those of our loved ones decorated the table. We sat and feasted for hours. And it wasn’t just for the holidays, but every time we got together.
Over the years, many of us have lost touch with this lifestyle. It was a healthy one. We ate fresh food, no preservatives. We ate in season. We canned the food when it was fresh and enjoyed it all winter long. Nothing was served plated. Everything was family style.
Every year I honor my grandmother’s memory by using her dishes and silverware set for the holidays. Food is love, and it doesn’t matter if you have a simple kitchen like my grandma or a fancy one. What matters is that you plant a seed.
For you and yours, I wish you a holiday filled with good food, good company and plenty of seeds. Abbondanza!
Please set an extra place at your holiday table. Contact the Food Bank of the Hudson Valley at 534-5344, foodbankofhudsonvalley.org. Even $10 will go a long way.