There is something about the scent of homemade spaghetti sauce as it bubbles away in my kitchen. It speaks of lazy summer nights out on the patio, of food that is healthy and rich in flavor, and it reminds me of the love I have for my little family as I provide good food for us at economical prices. My sauce is full of rich tomatoes, Italian sausage, red wine, garlic, basil, a touch of brown sugar and lots of time in the crockpot to develop its thick and rich character.
I started cooking at the tender age of twelve in defense of a mother that couldn’t cook her way out of a disaster. My mother attempted many recipes from chili, to spareribs, even to pickling cucumbers. All the recipes were from a parade of modern day cookbooks that were stacked haphazardly in our kitchen. Everything she touched was met with culinary failure. I remember a day when she silently stared at four long rows of homemade pickles in our basement, opened a jar and sniffed the contents. Then she threw out every single jar of pickles she had canned. She told me that she did not feel that they were safe to eat. About the only positive thing you could say about my mother’s cooking was that it remained edible…almost. When I around five or six years old, my father started to take over the kitchen and on the days he cooked, while the fare was hearty and not imaginative, at least you could eat it. I always regretted that I had no family member to learn cooking from and that there were no regional or old world dishes for me to inherit.
During my teenage years, I slowly took over dinner preparation. Both my parents worked and then went out square dancing four nights a week, so the task of getting a meal on the table for myself, my parents and younger brother fell on my shoulders. Cooking, cleaning and washing dishes became my daily tasks. I did not enjoy washing the dishes or the cleaning, but I slowly gained an appreciation for the art of cooking. I watched cooking shows on television and learned that each region of the world had their own pallet of flavors that they favored. Learning how a culture cooked its meals gave me an understanding of what it might be like to live in other parts of the world and how other families might gather around their table. My favorite type of cooking became Italian cuisine. Mainly northern Italian since I loved aborio rice and the rich beef dishes of that region. I find the food is healthy, light and full of variety.
As fate would have it, I met and married a half-Italian man. One of the things that he loved while we were dating was that I cooked Italian food that reminded him of his mother’s, although he would always point out that his mother cooked Southern Italian fare and I cooked Northern Italian style. I would hear him chat with his mother about my dishes and she would integrate him about what I cooked and what ingredients I used. Then declare that it was not quite what she considered Italian. Even so, I spent many a day watching cooking shows with my mother-in-law and we both enjoyed comparing notes about our favorite television chefs. Cooking was something that we had in common.
I think about my mother-in-law sometimes when I make my homemade spaghetti sauce. It is not a recipe handed down to me by my grandmother or mother, but one that I found rave reviews for on the internet. It is Jo Mama’s Spaghetti Sauce, the author claims that her children will turn down a steak dinner in favor of her sauce and after making it many times over the past few years, I agree with her. It is now my sauce and one that I’m known for. I always make a huge batch all at once and freeze away four or five quarts of it for future use. My husband loves it. I might not have been raised with the traditions of an Italian mother, but I think that my mother-in-law approved of my cooking and how I take care of her son. I hope she is up there smiling down on us as we enjoy our spaghetti dinners.