Nonno Anni told me when he received an orange for Christmas during his childhood in the 1920s, he treasured it. I knew he and his Mum were poor and village life in Italy was hard at that time, especially with his father far away in Australia to seek work, but an orange… I couldn’t quite believe it when I found this out as a child in the 1970s and oranges were so easy to get then. But fresh oranges were considered treasures before refrigeration and faster transport. Especially at Christmas considering that since ancient times, oranges have been said to bring joy, good luck and to ward off evil. (What must Nonno Anni have thought once he had a whole display of oranges at his fruit shop and milk bar!)
So, with Christmas oranges in mind, I decided to bake an orange cake since it’s that time of year and it wasn’t until making it that I realised, this one cake of simple ingredients is also made up of elements from several generations… the Christmas orange story from Nonno’s Italian childhood, the cake tin well-used in baking for countless cake stalls and Australian country shows before my mother-in-law handed it onto us, the orange cake recipe in her mother’s 1930s cookbook, also passed on to us with affection. (And I love how the recipe’s first line is, three eggs and their weight in sugar…)
If I’m honest, Christmas isn’t always the easiest time for me as it feels bittersweet with the happiness of those present mingled with the quiet of those unable to be or now gone. But food is so special in that certain dishes can trigger those lovely memories of people dear to us no matter how long it may be since we’ve seen them and this year, I feel happy that oranges can bring that little bit of sunshine.
Warmest wishes and thank you for your lovely support and messages throughout the year. May 2020 be filled with light and some happiness no matter what else it may bring! Wishing you tante belle cose – many beautiful things, Zoe xx
These lovelies are some baking treats from having more time in the kitchen of late (and there’s been some fiascos as well as triumphs, I admit!) Roger is the scone baker in our house so gets credit for these. He likes following set recipes, while I’m more of a ‘bit of this and that’ cook, assessing as I go. The last time I baked scones was in a school ‘home economics’ class where the teacher said my hands were too warm for the dough (cool hands are better so scones aren’t tough apparently).
Great-grandma Charlotte was the scone baker in my family. She even entered some at the Ipswich show and gained second place for ‘best plate homemade scones’ in 1927 (her breads won several firsts!) Her daughter, Lorna, my grandma, preferred talking politics with a cigarette in hand than cooking, though she did make a mean fried rice. I feel for her as she’d have been great in a professional career but most women in those days didn’t get that chance. I had a thing for pancakes and pikelets from a young age and that page of my first cookbook is splodged with attempts. Just like the kitchen now wears flour over the benchtop and a bit on the floor too.
The thing about home cooking is, it doesn’t matter if it doesn’t turn out quite right. When there’s that comforting, cooking scent in the house (if not too burnt!), a cloth spread over the table and a cup of tea or coffee ready, eating what you’ve cooked while it’s still warm can unexpectedly bring back happy memories and stories of people loved, now long-gone, and just for a little while, all feels well.
Making pasta alla chitarra just as my Abruzzese great-grandmother, Maddalena used to make. The shoebox-sized wooden box strung with steel wires must be ‘tuned’ like a guitar (chitarra). A sheet of pasta is laid over the strings and pressed through with a rolling pin, slicing it into strips. And the pasta sauce is like the ‘gravy’ Nanna Francesca cooked (with a few extra greens I added!)
I certainly don’t use the chitarra too often unless I have a few hours to spare but it was lovely to make this and remember my grandmothers. I like how in a way cooking can bring together different generations, even after some are long gone, as only handed-down recipes can do.