The Starter Farm

Hand me downs

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Tonight I watched as my husband taught our nephews how to make gnocchi by hand on the butcher block counter.  The youngest watched attentively, rolled the dough with his hands and smiled as his face lit up with his finished product.  It took me a minute, no more than a minute, and I really had to step back to realize what was happening.  Memories, the handing down of the torch of making, growing and sharing food to the younger generation was happening right now and I just realized it.

            Would he tell his children or nephews about these memories like we do now?  My childhood was filled with memories of making food in my grandmother’s basement.  She had a second kitchen down there just to make pasta, gravy and anything else that could “heat up the house.”  It was quite common in Italian families to have two kitchens and don’t get any ideas; my grandparents were not wealthy people.  It was a necessity in times without air conditioning.  I remember the wet smell of the fresh flour that began our pasta, the garlic that permeated the air as the gravy simmered and that distinctive finish of basil as it was torn to top tomatoes.  I knew that dough had to sit for 30 minutes just as sure as I knew arithmetic and how to breathe.  Tying up the Braciole with thread became as normal as tying my shoes and I swore repeatedly not to give away the secret to her raviolis to Mrs. Caputo down the block.  Did she know what she was creating when she taught us these things?  Did she realize what a life-long impression she would make? 

            The garden was just as much training for us with our grandfather but at the time we had no idea it was training.  Tilling the soil, planting the seeds, watering almost every night as a daily ritual and running out in the morning first thing to see how our hard work was growing was all part of it.   That was excitement for me.  I believe he gave me the gift of the love of farming.  I’m sure at the time he thought he was just spending time with his grandkids.

            After dinner tonight I rewound the day.  There were images of pulling beets with the kids, showing them how to build raised garden beds, and watching them with a smile on my face as they reacted to finding ripe tomatoes as if they were gold coins.  The little one could not wait to check for chicken eggs every hour and I chuckled with the image of my oldest running out of barn yelling “There’s a horse running out of the barn and it’s chasing me!” due to an unlatched stall gate.  This was all in one day and I couldn’t wait to see what tomorrow would bring.

            I have this very early memory of my mom dancing around with me in her arms to music.  I could not have been more than two or three.  She would dance around and eventually bring me close to a light switch so I could turn it off over her shoulder just because she knew I loved it.  That was our game and for some unknown reason that memory was so strong to me.  Will these kids have such a strong memory of what we are creating now? All I know now is I will continue to hand down family recipes, continue to show them the right way to stake tomatoes and continue to create memories that I hope we all remember to pass down to the next generation.

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