keeping her with us
Jennie Guida, my grandmother,
was born Jennie Sorrentino in West New York, New Jersey in 1899. She
married Antonio Guida, who came to New York from Massaquano, a village
near Naples, and it was reportedly his friend Vincent who taught her
how to cook this sauce.
They settled in the
Bronx, where my father was born, and where our family gathered often
for big meals. Three generations of our family have grown up eating
Jennie's tomato sauce. Jennie died in January 2003, at age 103. Making
this sauce, just how she taught me, is one way that I keep her with
us. My earliest memories include visiting my grandmother and grandfather
on a weekend or holiday, along with my father and sister, and often
my aunt, uncle, and cousin. The smell of that sauce drew everyone straight
from the front door to the stove downstairs. It never seemed odd to
me that my grandparents had an entirely separate kitchen/dining room
set up in their basement by the backyard entry. The house's original
kitchen was used as a sort of office-with-refrigerator, the oven a storage
compartment for dishes and candy. It was impossible to
wait till dinner was served. As we stood around the simmering pot, dipping
bits of bread and stealing the occasional meatball, my grandmother beamed.
"Good?" she asked, as we nodded vigorously, our mouths too
full to respond. "No sugar!", she said, grinning from ear
to ear. Dinner was a leisurely
event. As we enjoyed our pasta, along with dishes of sautéed
mushrooms, broccoli rabe, artichokes, and other treats, my father and
my uncle discussed politics or sports. My grandmother filled us in on
the neighborhood gossip, and we kids were always encouraged to tell
about what we did in school. Later in the evening, I'd sometimes sneak
back downstairs to the dinner table, where my grandfather sat with his
newspaper, peeling an apple. He wasn't a talkative guy, but as we sat
there quietly, he offered me slices of his apple, and I felt like we
bonded. My grandfather passed
away in 1980, when I was 10. My cousin and her husband have three gorgeous
grown children now, and my aunt and uncle spend about half the year
in Florida. My sister's moved to Florence, and my father lives in Manhattan.
We're a small family, so it's quite special when we do get together.
In the meantime, I am grateful for the love of food that I inherited,
and I think I keep my grandmother close to me with every dish I cook.
grew up in New Jersey, and has spent the past several years as a writer/researcher
on international human rights issues. She now lives in England with
her husband, John.