I wrote and posted this story in 2007. I’m reposting it today to honor my Mother’s birthday, December 14th. This is the first time in my life that I can’t say "Happy Birthday Mom" to her, she passed last February. I just wanted to remember her today with this short story about one of the things we did together.
I dedicate the post to you Mom
A trip is in the final planning stages. Barb and I are going to Chicago to visit my Mom and Sister. My Mom’s birthday is the 14th of December and Christmas is just a little after that. Since we don’t travel during the Christmas holidays, I like to make a visit sometime close to her birthday.
|In the neighborhood sometime in the 1940's|
The past few years, I have gone down and my Sister and I help Mom do some baking for the holidays. She is still fortunate enough to live independently, but wielding a rolling pin and hustling dough to and from the stove is quite a chore. Besides, I enjoy cooking and baking and this session has become a tradition not only for my Mom, but for my Sister as well.
|My beautiful Mom|
We’ll be making cannoli shells and something we call crustelli. The recipe is the same for the crustelli as it is for the cannoli shells. For those of you who don’t know what cannoli are, they are a Sicilian pastry. The shell, which we will be making, is a thin delicate dough that is wrapped around a stainless steel cylinder form and deep fried. The end result is a crisp light slightly sweet crusty shell which is filled from both ends with a mixture of heavenly sweetness.
For the filling, we use fresh ricotta cheese and powdered sugar, whipped together until very smooth, a touch of almond extract and mini dark chocolate morsels. Small colored candied fruit has been used in the past and we may revert back to them someday, but for now, it’s the semi sweet chocolate mini chips that get the nod. The ends are adorned with a red and/or green candied cherry or pistachio nutmeats, then the shell is laid out and sprinkled with powdered sugar.
|At the lake, sometime around 1950|
The crustelli is the same dough as the cannoli shell, but it is cut into thin strips using a ravioli or pizza cutter. The strips are tied in a loose knot and then deep fried. These are placed on a tray and honey is drizzled on them. Powdered sugar is lightly dusted on top of that.
|Mom cooking for Christmas, not all that many years ago|
Each of these treats are traditional at Christmas in my Mother’s home. I’ve been eating them since I cut my first teeth and I’m sure if I ask my Mom, I was gumming the crustelli as an infant. They are delicious. Even though we make them a couple of weeks before the holidays, they are simply placed in a gift box, the kind you’d use for a shirt, and they seem to stay crisp for quite some time. The “fixins” aren’t put in or on them until they are served. We keep them in a cool dry place.
|The Feast on the table|
Since I have been going down there and working with my Mom and Sister, I have been the beneficiary of a few boxes of each to bring home. We like to serve them when guests drop by or bring them to any affair we get invited to. We also serve them at our own table until they are gone.
|Around 1985 when Mom lived with us in Pine City, MN|
Over the years, I have had many jobs and some of them were as a cook. My Mom brags about all of her children and how good we all cook. I have also had the opportunity to make other food items with my Mom. We’ve made gravy. Gravy is what non-Italians call spaghetti sauce or tomato sauce. We say “Pass the gravy” and we wiped our mouths with an old dish towel that we call a mopene, (Mop-peen’)
She loves to talk recipes and how she transformed some produce given to her into two or three dinner entrees. We will converse while we are in the kitchen. Stories of the past will come up. Most I know, but it is always a fine time to listen to an Elder speak of days gone by. It will be great fun and happiness in a world too full of pain. I’m glad I can take the time and go down to where she is and cook with her.
|Mom with Gracie Jayne, 2008|
Baking with my Mom and sister will be like Emeril’s TV show, but at my Mom’s place. I’d love to do a show like that. Cooking with Mama, or Carmelina’s Cucina. I can see it now. It would be a great hit. Seasonal recipes and traditional delicacies from her kitchen to your table.
Mangia, mangia! Food Network move over.
I wrote this before making a trip to visit my mom in December of 2008. That’s the last time I went down to cook and bake with her. In 2009, I visited around this time. She left us last February and is on the journey home.
I remember Mom’s birthday today, December 14, 1920.
|Her last trip to lake Sissabagama|
Carmelina Rosa Caruso Spado Skalicky
We love you Mom