I started thinking about fusion cuisine – that cross over movement that is so popular with foodies the country over.
Spanish Tapas meets 50s Diner!
Expensive Hamburgers! (truffles, gold foiled tomatoes, rare cuts of beef)
But really, every family fuses what they know into a new food movement – self-contained in their home kitchen. I think of my grandparents and really see that as a a prime example. My grandparents have single handedly shaped who I am as a cook and who my mother is as a cook. They shaped who my sister is and what she creates in the kitchen. All my cousins. All my aunts and uncles. Everyone. Shaped by two people, who came together and meshed their generation-handed-down traditional knowledge.
Leroy, was the only one in his family not born in Italy. He was born on the family farm in Watsonville, CA in 1931. He remembers eating well all through the Depression because his mother (Nana) raised chickens and his father (Papa) had an extensive garden.
He remembers his mother being taken away to a Japanese Internment Camp, because during WWII – Italy was the enemy and Nana never earned her American citizenship.
He remembers the plentiful apple and peach orchards his father ran on the farm dying in the 1950s and no one wanted to replant them, as it meant a lifetime as a farmer. A lifetime of toil and trouble.
Leroy learned to make sardines in tomatoe sauce on crackers for an appetizer. He learned to dry mushrooms to put in thick marinara sauces. He was the master at hand-rolling gnocchi.
Beverly was the youngest child, born to a Southern Mama, from Arkansas and a Father from the fields of Fresno. Beverly’s mother (Great Grandma Claire) had inherited millions of dollars from a railroad accident that killed her father. Alone at 18 years old with money to burn, she went to work at a peach cannery on Cannery Row in Monterey. She met the most handsome guy (Great Grandpa Henry – King of the Wet Kiss) at the cannery one day and they used to frolic on the beaches of Santa Cruz.
After they were married, they opened hotels, casinos and restaurants. My great grandmother Claire had a gorgeous jewelry collection and there are beautiful photographs of her dressed up in 40’s dresses with cloche hats and her ever present cigarette.
One day, all the money ran out. And so Beverly who had been learning to cook thick New York steaks and expensive german chocolate cakes. Became well versed in preparing noodles and potatoes. And high balls. Every day at 4 pm, my great grandparents had a highball and watched the sun set.
I remember being a young girl at their house and they made me a high ball (mostly water) because I so desperately wanted to feel glamorous and grown up with them at the big table and watch the sun set.
When Beverly and Leroy got married they developed what my entire family has grown up eating. Southern Fried Italian Fusion. Depression Style Methodology of saving and eating EVERYTHING.
I was the only grandchild with a matching iron stomach to my grandfathers. So I spent the most time with him in his garden because I never had to take a break and go into the house for lunch. I’d eat whatever he’d packed for himself. Which was always leftovers he didn’t want to throw away but was forced to hide and eat because Beverly had put her foot down and was forcing it out of the house.
I remember her saying to me as a small child, “Muhl- Leesah! If you eat that, don’t come crying to me if you get sick!”
Bu I never did get sick.
Instead I learned how to make vegetable stock from roasted vegetables. I learned how to stretch things into one more meal. I learned how to disguise things into something else. I knew about Swiss Chard, Fava Beans and Rabe before it was hip to eat vegetables (see Chez Panisse and the small farmer movement).
My mother was re-married, and she brought into our family, a man who is the master of chicken cacciatore. He is Italian, but from a different era, region and background. So we have morphed lessons from Leroy into the teachings of my stepdad.
Embrace it, shared knowledge is a beautiful thing.