Whether one is Italian, Irish, Hungarian, German, or any one of the other multitudes of nationalities, everyone has traditions. One distinct tradition that most Italians remember is the aroma of sautéed onions and garlic in olive oil floating in a sea of ripe tomatoes and puree that is seasoned with basil, oregano, salt, pepper and a bit of sugar. Nestled deep within the pot sat juicy meatballs, spicy sausage, and braciole (thin steaks wrapped in a delicious stuffing of breadcrumbs, cheese, salami, raisins, chopped egg and seasonings, Sunday dinner "gravy" slow cooking for hours on the stove. And to celebrate the feast, there were always visitors to join for dinner. Whether Aunt Lina and Uncle Dino, or Aunt Rosie and Uncle Frankie—someone came to eat. The large dining room table was set with the good china, and loud laughter filled the air as everyone spoke over each other trying to get a word in. If you didn't have a loud voice, your comments would be lost in the group. It was family, and it was fun.
And at times, many times families headed to other towns to visit the multitude of relatives that lived there. Italians have big families and everybody knows somebody. No matter which home you visited as soon as you entered the house the aroma of gravy cooking on the stove permeated your nostrils faster than a speeding bullet. And of course, everyone's gravy was the best, and you always said that to the chef. It was funny though how each cook used the same ingredients but each sauce always tasted different.
Today that fragrance permeates my home on Sunday mornings, too. It has for 25 years. Each time I make my sauce, I remember those childhood days of sneaking into the kitchen, opening the pot and stealing a meatball when Mom wasn't looking, or breaking off the end of the crusty Italian bread and dipping it into the pot, and then quickly eating it before you were caught. Although the dripping sauce on your chin was always a dead giveaway. It was as if the sauce was sacred, and you couldn't touch it until dinner. That sauce was more protected by the Italian woman who cooked it than Fort Knox is. Maybe it was pride that caused the protection, or maybe a strong desire to have traditions. Whatever it was, it was a wonderful tradition that kept families together even if only for that Sunday meal.
Ria Prestia is an author who lives in Florida with her husband, her children and her faithful lab. One of her passions is to reflect on life through the written word.