In honor of Grandparents Day, we caught up with a member of our Aura community, Erica, about her family's unique tradition that's been going strong for generations. We were blown away by Erica's wise words about family, tradition, and the importance of making memories and cherishing moments.
Read on to find out how Erica stays connected to her family, and to her Italian heritage, during a time when it's not always possible to gather the entire family around a table for a shared meal. Enjoy!
What I look forward to most when I see my family are the stereotypical Italian American things: Laughing together, yelling at each other, and talking so loud you end up going home with a headache. And, sitting down to a big meal prepared by all the women in my immediate family - all of us bustling around the kitchen, cooking together, and yelling at each other for being in the way of doing something wrong. ;)
"Family is, for most people, our one true constant."
If these last few months have shown us anything it's that family is, for most people, our one true constant. No matter what’s going on in the world, your family is your family. Having traditions reminds me that my family is always around, even if we aren’t able to sit around the table and have a meal together as much as we want to.
They’re with me in the sauce I make for dinner, the apron I wear that my grandmother handmade for me, and the homemade wine they made that my husband and I drink with a bit of reckless abandon because, hey, what else is there to do!?
"Having traditions reminds me that my family is always around, even if we aren’t able to sit around the table."
As a family, we’ve come a long way. In Italy, we lived in poverty. We were poor farmers, bricklayers, mothers taking care of eight kids at a time. We had nothing but we were survivors. Everything we needed we grew ourselves and we never wasted a thing. Mid-to-late August was harvest season.
We grew tomatoes, made sauce with our bare hands, and jarred it. Something as simple as tomatoes could feed us for months. It was a family production. Everyone had a job to do. This was a necessary survival tool passed on from one generation to the next.
We continued this tradition of making and jarring our own tomato sauce even after coming to America in the 1960s. It’s in our DNA - it’ll always be done. But, these days it’s not done out of necessity but more so to keep the tradition alive.
At the end of the summer, our whole family reunites. We work together - all day and all night for an entire weekend - to make enough tomato sauce to last everyone in the family a year. Sometimes we make nearly 600 jars! When we’re done, we celebrate with a big pasta and fresh sauce feast.
Italian-American culture sometimes comes off as a novelty in American society... you know what I mean, gangsters and pizza shops (although we do make damn good pizza), but go deeper and there’s so much more.
"Our traditions will never stop because we will never let them stop."
Our traditions will never stop because we will never let them stop. Yes, it’s a lot of work, of course, but we can’t let this fade away. Those survivors from southern Italy, I am who I am because of them. Making our family sauce is the least I can do to honor them.
I’ll continue this tradition in my home, take over the process, and teach my children. They will always know where they came from. And if I am being completely honest - you’ll never find me buying jarred sauce from the supermarket. Trust me the difference is outstanding! (Read on for my family recipe below.)
It may sound a corny BUT I am a high school history teacher and I always tell my students to turn to their elders- whether that’s - your grandparents, parents, aunts, uncles, whoever. It's important to spend time with them, listen to their stories, involve them in big and small decisions, and learn from their experiences. Let them be your teachers.
"Every generation rests upon the shoulders of the last."
What you learn from them no textbook or social media post could ever teach you. Make it a point to learn the cookie recipe from your grandma, learn how to cultivate that backyard or urban garden from your grandpa, learn the story of your family - who they are, how they got here, how they survived wars, and poverty, and immigration, etc. Every generation rests upon the shoulders of the last.
Filetto di Pomodore Sauce:
Fresh plum tomatoes (you could also use San Marzano or cherry tomatoes)
Home-grown or fresh basil
Extra Virgin olive oil
How to make it
Roughly cut up fresh tomatoes and sprinkle with salt.
Toss tomatoes and salt in a bowl.
In a pot, sautee on Med-High extra virgin olive oil with garlic and onions until fragrant.
Add tomatoes to the pot, stir and press down on them occasionally.
Add fresh basil leaves and stir.
Let the tomato mixture cook until it is broken down and has a chunky sauce consistency.
Mix well with any type of pasta - tomato sauce mixture should lightly coat the pasta
Enhance this recipe however you like - you could add additional herbs and or spices - red pepper flakes are always a good idea!