A gift from my son, published 1971
My son recently returned from a brief holiday in Italy. He is now in his mid 20’s. With his sister and me he first visited in 1997 when the three of us travelled through the UK and Europe for six weeks so that I could show the children the wider world. As their father is an Italian-Australian it was important to me that they knew of their heritage…my French/English background and their Italian background. Needless to say it was a wonderful and very bonding trip. My son also visited Italy in 2005 when he attended a language school in Florence with his father for two months. So he was not unfamiliar with the language and the culture, and so a great help to his travelling “mate”.
I never expect gifts from my children when they are travelling, or at any other time, actually. But my son bought me the most thoughtful of gifts which he found in a little bookshop in Rome and as he said: “Mumma I just had to buy it for you”. It is a cookbook written by Sophia Loren in 1971 when, as I understand it, she was confined to bed during the duration of one of her pregnancies.
My original copy of Julia Child's famous book, circa 1974, held together with tape and hope for many more years of inspiration
For many, perhaps, a son buying his mother a vintage cookbook would be unusual. But not in this family. Cooking together, sharing recipes, their successes and failures, has been a strong bond. My children’s father and I have been divorced for many years. However, the loving friendship I had with my Italian born mother in law was one which was embedded in our love of cooking…and the joy she had in teaching me the basics of good Italian cooking, and encouraging me to build upon those basics. And even today, when we share dinner often with our children, their father appreciates the meals I prepare in memory of his mother.
My daughter bought me this new edition in case I outlive the original
My mother was also a wonderful cook. From my first memory she would be listening to Françoise Hardy or Herb Albert playing on the record player while trying to cook like Elizabeth David or Julia Child. She always believed that her food should be as beautifully presented as it should taste. She was renowned for her dinner parties, which combined wonderful food, beautiful wines, exquisite decoration and great wit.
From my mother's collection, published 1959
Over the years many cookbooks have been passed down from my mother to me. My mother in law never used a recipe, and when she shared a recipe which was in her head, passed down orally by her own relatives, I had to stand close by to see the measure of the ingredients she used as everything was done by “feel”! I am sure my children will relish the “vintage” cookbooks as well as my handwritten notes from the times I spent watching Nonna create in her kitchen.
My mother's collection, published 1965
That is not to say that I am stuck in the groove of the tried and true recipes. When I was in France recently, and on previous occasions, I have downloaded recipes, often in French, to my laptop or iPad, so that I can find the correct ingredients, usually different fish and seafood, try the recipes in situ and then attempt to replicate them on my return to Australia. Seafood is so different all over the world that the taste can differ enormously unless true comparisons can be made. My fishmonger rolls his eyes whenever I visit his store after one of my trips to Europe. And then when I come close to perfecting the taste of a dish after a few tries, he requests the recipe!
And the legacy for my children of my years of indulgence in cookbooks, old and new, is that through my trials and errors they too have developed a love for cooking. My daughter is not only an excellent and inventive cook but a wonderful hostess, who entertains with flair, confidence and imagination. My son is an intuitive cook who sees his culinary creations as his passion. And regularly rings “Mumma” asking if I think a particular ingredient will work as he adapts his own recipes.
As I wrote yesterday, it is important for children to have the life skills to sustain them in a rapidly changing world; And then as young adults, to appreciate the “basics” of life, to be able to stop and be revived by the simple act of cooking a meal and eating it in peace with family and friends.