"How I wish, how I wish you were here…"

by Katie Pizzuto on April 11, 2010

in Cooking

For nearly as long as rosemary has been used in the kitchen for its culinary allure, it’s also been a symbol of remembrance. In fact, centuries ago, sprigs of rosemary were laid at the grave of loved ones as a token of loyalty and commemoration. It’s even mentioned in Shakespeare’s Hamlet, when the distraught Ophelia who’s lost her father says, “There’s rosemary, that’s for remembrance.” Given my affinity for both food and culture, I’ve always held close to that bit of symbolism, so when my husband lost his great uncle this past week and we went to pay our respects to his family, I thought it an opportune moment to make a gesture that would comfort both the belly and the soul.

Rosemary is a curious herb, very particular about what other ingredients it will pair well with, despite how cooperative they may or may not be. But a classic taste combination is that of rosemary and lemon, so I decided to make a Lemon Rosemary Cake—a cake I dubbed my Remembrance Cake—and making it, as I look back now, was every bit as much an exercise in catharsis as falling to your knees in prayers. For some of us, our temple is our kitchen, our pew is our cutting board, and our altar is our stove. Cooking something for those you love and for those who mourn, as you sit at a table bathed in morning sunlight, affords you the time to remember as well.

That remembrance begins as you squeeze each lemon half you’ve cut, extracting from it every last drop of juice. It’s a motion that requires strong hands at a moment when you may not feel so strong, but there is comfort in the weight of a lemon resting in your palm. That remembrance continues as you pluck the leaves off each sprig of rosemary, giving careful diligence to a task that is not for the impatient, and persists even as you grate the lemons, stripping them of their zest and leaving them in a pile—emptied of their juice and bared of their skin.

But no matter how much pleasure can be plucked from the alchemy of cooking and how much peace can be attained by expressing your grief through that hands-on process, nothing can surpass handing that cake to a loved one, whose loss is still a wound and not yet a scar. For in that moment, when it passes from hands to hands and you say, “There’s rosemary, that’s for remembrance,” you say much more. In that moment you’ve given them not only sustenance, but you’ve also given them a new memory, forged in a time of loss, that will feed them for years to come.

{ 12 comments… read them below or add one }

1 Kevin Hamel April 11, 2010

Gosh, that was gently powerful and very beautiful…

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2 Dragon April 11, 2010

Beautiful, darling girl. xo

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3 RJ Flamingo April 11, 2010

What a touching piece, Katie. My condolences to your husband and his family on their loss.

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4 Greg April 12, 2010

I will certainly remember this thoughtful article.

Greg

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5 Katie Pizzuto April 12, 2010

Thanks guys. Not only was the family touched by the story of rosemary, but they absolutely raved about how delicious this cake came out, so in the end, it put a much-needed smile on everyone’s face.

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6 doris April 12, 2010

Katie,

I was one of the fortunate ones who tasted the cake, which, by the way, was absolutely delicious. You put so much thought and love into the cake that you made for family and friends, that it is no wonder that the result was tender, loving and delicious.

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7 Elle April 12, 2010

So beautifully written, Katie–as always. I’m so sorry for your husband and his family’s loss.

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8 Linsey April 12, 2010

Sorry about your great uncle Katie, found out about it when Anthony got the email. Apparently from what Anthony said he was a brilliant man.

I love rosemary to cook with, I have a shrub in the garden that has given me many happy herb additions for years. Now I will look upon it in an extra way when I pick some from it.

Anthony is now flying home incidently … we had a great holiday and I even got him to try a bit of haggis in Scotland but no faggots.

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9 Katie Pizzuto April 12, 2010

He was, in fact, a brilliant man, Lin…brilliant, full of life and always a joy to be around. As for the rosemary, I even have a beautiful necklace charm made out of silver, engraved with a sprig of rosemary on one side, and the quote from Hamlet on the other side. Michael gave it to me after my grandmother passed many years ago.

Have always wanted to try haggis…did he cringe?! LOL!

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10 Linsey April 12, 2010

No he didn’t, it was his usual response, ‘it’s ok… I’ll eat it!’

He has asked me to make him Cornish pasties though, he tried one today.

I love the idea of the rosemary silver necklace charm – good to have special things that bring special memories. I have a piece of Lalique that is always connected to memories of my grandmother, and other items for other family members

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11 The Wine Commonsewer April 17, 2010

Although I was Italian in a past life, I did not know about rosemary’s connection to remembrance and grieving. Surprised too, that rosemary shows up in Shakespeare, it doesn’t seem well suited to England’s weather patterns, but then again, I’m not terribly cultured.

I have two rosemary bushes the size of Mini Coopers and, like Linsey, I’ll not look at them the same way again.

My condolences to you and your family and my thanks for yet another post from the heart. And the lemon rosemary cake.

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12 Don April 20, 2010

Katie:
Condolences to you and your family. Loosing a loved one is never easy, but this piece was transformative. Amazing prose.

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