If there is one thing I know about Italian women it is that the kitchen is their domain. Living in Italy for the semester, I am very anxious to get into the kitchen with my housemother and to learn all her cooking secrets. Yet, even without the language barrier, this is much easier said than done.
My host mom Flavia reminds me a lot of my own Italian great grandmother. Although Flavia represents a more modern woman because she also works outside of the home, she and my great grandmother have many similarities between them, specifically in regards to their behavior in the kitchen. One such parallel is the great effort exhibited by both women in their favorite place in the house. Like the witch in Hansel and Gretel, Italian woman live to feed those around them. Unlike the witch, however, who cooks for and feeds the fairy tale children in order to fatten them up for her own indulgence, Italian mammas feed others so that some day those same mouths will reciprocate the favor.
Yet, there is perhaps one slight problem with this expectation. If one was to ask an Italian woman about her recipes, it is doubtful that she will point to a favorite cookbook or a stash of hand-written recipe cards. Rather, most will simply smile and point to their heads, indicating that their recipes are consolidated memories from extensive repetition and practice. To them, the kitchen is a laboratory, the place where they go to experiment and to prepare multi-course meals for the various hungry stomachs in the family. Every meal is a trial and error period until eventually something tastes just right. Although diners might not ever notice the differences in preparation, there is a very thin line between perfection and imperfection for an Italian woman.
My Italian great grandmother was one such woman. Continue reading