Maria Lina's Voice
Every family has learned and taught some lessons. If I were to choose one lesson I’ve learned and want to pass on, I would say that food must never go to waste. My mother was an excellent example in this regard. It’s a warning that comes directly from the post-war period, a hard time in which everything was beautiful and precious. A lesson that smells like toasted cheese crust, typical of Lagosanto, a small town in the province of Ferrara.
Every summer, we used to gather at nonna Libera’s home. It was great to meet up as we didn’t have many chances to see each other during the rest of the year. We all used to sit around the fireplace and cook cheese crust and corn cobs. I remember nonna dividing the cobs between us kids, while telling us about this tradition that keeps going on since the war. My father and his brothers were little at that time, going out at night was impossible, and there was no television. That’s how my nonna, just like the other women of the village, had come up with an alternative way to spend time together.
Living in a small town, everybody used to help each other. The farmer, after having harvested the corn cobs, used to leave us a few without knowing that it would have become our family tradition. When my mother married my father, she also embraced this tradition, using the kitchen burner to cook them given she didn’t have a fireplace. And noe, I do the same thing with my daughter Alice, who still doesn’t cook but enjoys eating.
Whenever I make ragù, she always tastes it and says, “I can’t smell grandma”. That’s a sweet hint to add more cheese crust. And it’s also when I start remembering those afternoons spent listening to my nonna’s stories, when there weren’t many toys to play with and simple stones where as precious as everything else.
This is what makes traditions so important. They represent an open door to our origins, through which we can take a trip down to memory lane. My memory lane is a patchwork of images of a family based in Lagosanto and of my grandparents living in Bagnolo in Piano. Both my mother’s and father’s sides of the family form a mosaic of memories: diving into the open canal used for irrigation, or playing hide and seek on the hay wagon... That was the time when the wagon was tied to the donkey and went on a rampage while our nonno was running after us yelling as loud as he could. Our nonno had that typical look of someone cut out from an old picture, wearing his hat and holding a sickle to cut the hay. I remember the watermelon cut into squares and shared between me and my cousins. I also recall my silly fear that nonna loved me less just because I didn’t stay over with her, as all my brothers did. But that same fear always disappeared every time we sat around the fireplace.
Some people don’t show their love so easily, they don’t kiss and hug, but there are times and atmospheres that shed light on a great love. For my nonna, that moment was in front of the fireplace cooking corn cobs.
This is just a small part of my family story, a trip down memory lane that I always love to take. A memory as precious as food.
Text by Carlotta Fiore
Photo by Diego Rosselli