Recently I had a very pleasant conversation with someone about holiday baking and golden childhood memories of baking cookies.
For her it was her grandmother’s cold porch where she hid the tins of holiday bakes. This porch didn’t see much sun and was always cold enough to store cookies for weeks. She talked about the wonderful flavors in the cookies themselves and how the recipes were a secret her grandmother got from her own grandmother but that they could find all of the cookies they wanted on her ‘cold porch’ when they came for the holidays.
For me it was the trips to the Sapienza bakery on holidays and special birthdays and the flavors I remembered from those Italian cookie recipes. After my children were born and we did all of the chocolate chip varieties and holiday brownies I wanted them to experience the wonderful Italian cookie varieties I had as a child. I had to do a lot of research and talk to a lot of women from those large Italian families about their baking secrets. Few were willing to divulge recipes. Many were willing to talk about their memories of family while eating those cookies.
The grandfather who used olive oil instead of butter because that was what they harvested. The grandmother who used walnuts instead of pecans because that was what they could forage from the yard. The wines were part of family cellar stores and the spices were made specifically to suit the tastes of the family preferences, etc.
The mystery and the magic was in the living traditions. Life! Not a book or the internet but from the hearts of the bakers themselves.
And, after some 36 years of making my own magic I imagine my pans could tell a story or two themselves.