"And woman I will try express, my inner feelings and thankfulness…"

by Katie Pizzuto on July 24, 2009

in Cooking

tataI was fortunate enough to grow up on the apron strings of not one, but two amazing grandmothers. To watch their zen-like movements in a kitchen was not just a matter of experience, but also one of grace. I spent countless hours rolling out dough for buñuelos, learning how to roll a lime with the heel of my hand, practicing the deceivingly difficult preparation of perfectly cooked rice, and waking in the wee hours of morning to spit roast a pig until the meat was juicy and moist, the fat was translucent and buttery, and the skin was crisp and crackling. Were it not for these two women, I don’t know that I would’ve fallen in love with both the alchemy of cooking and the art of feeding others.

Growing up alongside women like these in a kitchen, I learned to put all my senses to work, not just taste. Sure there was a clock on the wall somewhere, but you gauged when a piece of meat was done by pushing on it with your finger and feeling for its resistance. Perhaps the timer had been set on the counter somewhere, but you knew intrinsically when those pastries in the oven were ready because you smelled it. And even though there were measuring spoons that had long gone rusty gathering dust in a drawer somewhere, you could easily determine how much of each spice you were using by how much space they took up in the palm of your hand. Instincts like these are priceless to have now, though they don’t always make for good recipes when you’re a blogger. In fact, I think most of you would go find something else to read if I were telling you to simply poke your steaks, eyeball your spices and smell your pastries…then again, that sounds just like something I’d do, doesn’t it?

As I got older, the sad truth is that they did, too. While I was beginning to explore other flavors outside the cocoon of Cuban cuisine, their hands were becoming unsteady, their noses were losing their acuity and their eyesight was unreliable without the help of thick prescription glasses. It was at that point in our lives that I was able to become a teacher. Oftentimes, one of them would sit at the table with me while I chopped veggies to top a bruschetta, or ask questions about the assembly of a lasagna. They would willingly try flavors that didn’t exist in their kitchens, like a brown butter sauce with sage, a luscious béarnaise on a thick cut of steak, or a nutty baklava. I found myself returning a favor I thought was unrepayable, by teaching them. And when they could no longer whip the egg whites for the meringues, my strong arms would do it for them. I became an extension of them, tasting, adjusting, balancing.

To this day, when I work in my kitchen, I work through them. It doesn’t matter how many volumes of culinary information I’ve picked up along the way, how many cookbooks line my shelves, or how many intriguing ingredients have found homes in my cabinets—the reason I cook the way I do is because of these two priceless women. And I’m sure that they both look down on me every now and again, and silently shake their heads thinking I’ve put way too much vanilla in my flan.

{ 21 comments… read them below or add one }

1 doris July 24, 2009

Your post brought tears to my eyes. So beautifully written and so true. You were so fortunate to have had these experiences and even more fortunate to have recognized it.

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2 Linsey July 24, 2009

My nan on my mother’s side wasn’t the greatest cook by todays standards. Nan cooked good basic British classic food – what amazed me is that she did it in a tiny kitchen with not even enough room to swing a cat.

It had: a Belfast (white pottery square sink), draining board, a work surface above a small fridge, a cooker, a small double worksurface – and that was if for moveable spaces to everything needed to prepare.

With that when i was a kid she managed to cook a full turkey roast meal with all the works every Christmas time.

I still can remember live eels in the sink, which she dispatched quickly with decapitation and skinning.

Nan also lived through wartime, and so did her mother in law (Grandmam). I had a cookery book made up of cuttings from newspaper recipes that provided such things as cakes made with no sugar, eggs or butter – what was left is anyones business – that was rationing for you.

Grandmam was also a great basic cook with a cupboard always full of preserves, cakes and other things ready for visitors.

We all should learn a lot from our grandmothers in the kitchen – they managed to set the standards for cultural traditions with no food processors and high tech electricals like we have today. Serious admiration!

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3 smokenmirrors July 24, 2009

The cycle of life continues…..
Whatever would we do without the guidance and wisdom of our Grandparents? They are by nature somewhat removed as an actual parent figure to us. It would seem often that they are trying to make up for any small mistakes that they had made in the upbringing of our parents. They spoil us with wisdom and experience. Then nature takes her course and it is us caring nurturing them.
This cycle is then repeated through the next generation and when it comes time, we become the Grandparents, imparting our love and experience to the next generation of Grandchildren. Thoughts are with you Katie

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4 Bren July 24, 2009

oye, i got choked up! you simply could not have written this any better. speaks for our generation of women. lucky for you, tenias las dos. I only had one to really show me and was a few times for one year during her visits to the states. distance in this case, is my enemy. but it inspired me to stay on her heel every chance i had, be it here en la yuma or en labana misma. i’m almost seeing this now with my mom. she’s young but very true to Cuban food, almost exclusively. so now i get to teach her a few things about other food, which she is cheerfully glad to get to know! you and i are very rich in this aspect. and is every other woman that appreciated learning from the best!

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5 Katie Pizzuto July 24, 2009

Thanks for all the great comments, guys. Having been given the gift of cooking means these two ladies are always with me, and never truly gone.

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6 ILEANA July 24, 2009

Katie

What can I say?
You are the real thing.
Beautiful inside out

LOVE YOU
Ili

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7 Michael July 24, 2009

having the privilege of knowing both these fabulous women I can only say that I still have the privilege of enjoying there culinary styles day in and day out through your interpretations. Great article

M.

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8 Jennifer July 24, 2009

Your tribute is touching, vivid and beautiful—a sweet reminder that culinary traditions are precious and magnificent tokens of our past.

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9 Linsey July 24, 2009

Its one hell of a way of keeping these people still alive, even after their passing.

This article immediately spawned many memories of my nan – and im sure writing it Katie you must have overflowed with memories of yours.

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10 SS Chris July 24, 2009

My condolences Katie…..and what a beautiful homage you’ve written. It remeinds me very much of my Nonnie (who passed 12 years ago)….a 1st generation Italian. She just knew how to cook….how to make everything she made taste great!! I remember asking her what kind of soup it was that I was eating…..and she would answer…”it’s DEE-licious soup honey!!” And she was right of course. Again my condolendces and thanks for making me think of my Nonnie!!

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11 NY Pete July 25, 2009

as I was reading your tribute, my thoughts turned to my oldest daughter who learned alot from my mom and my wife’s mom about the fine art of cooking. my sincere condolences to you and your family.

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12 Enrique July 25, 2009

Katie, your writing brought love and gratitude to all my senses … And by the way, I was at that birthday party too!

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13 Coupe 60 July 25, 2009

Katie, what an excellent tribute…please accept my condolences…and thanks for giving me occasion to think of my own Nana who lived downstairs from us… I even was brought back to the smell of her cooking tripe for my grandfather…A far better smell in memory than in real life…

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14 Anthony July 25, 2009

Amazing Enty Katie. I was blown away and a tear as well came to my eye. Since my situatuation (moving home again) has learned me some new recipes on how to cook. For example, i never knew how to make moms lasagna. Since ive been back, i now do!!!!!!

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15 Tania Gomez July 27, 2009

this is a wonderful photo of u & Tata when you turned 4 – I remember the day and we had lots of family & friends over. thanks for a wonderful article on your grandmothers. I also inherited some of her culinary traits although I don’t use them much these days. I remember whenever I would go into her kitchen to cook, she always came to give me some pointers, but as I was stubborn and liked to do things myself, I got mad and told her she could take over and do it herself. However, I did pick up some pointers during my lifetime and will always think of her whenever making some of her specialty dishes, such as arroz con pollo, torrejas, bunuelos, etc.
wonderful tribute to a caring and very loving grandmother!

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16 Larry Swain July 28, 2009

A wonderful tribute….

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17 The Wine Commonsewer August 4, 2009

I love the tribute, I love the women, I love the photo. Salud Ms Katie.

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18 Robin July 21, 2010

I really wish I would have paid more attention when my grandmother was cooking. I’m glad my sister did, though. I still miss her food so much!

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19 Katie Pizzuto July 22, 2010

That’s the same case with my sister and I. She never showed interest in the kitchen when our grandmother was alive. now she looks to me for guidance.

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20 coco cooks July 27, 2010

You summed up everything I feel about my mother and cooking. Even though she’s been gone 10 years. Its not about the prefect well written recipe or photo. A true cook learns and cooks though instinct like out mothers , and their mother taught them. When my mother was alive the best time were when we shared and leaned on each in the kitchen. We could make it through anything as long as we had out kitchen to share and grow in.

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21 Iggy M August 25, 2010

beautiful

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