I grew up in my grandmother's kitchen: it was where I learned how to cook. It was also where I learned how to love. Maria (Riviezzo) D'Angelo was from Naples, Italy. She spoke very little English, never learned to read or write, and had many heartaches in her life. These things did not keep her down, for my grandmother was a survivor. I will always remember her fondly, and she will always be sadly missed.
My family was very large with many aunts, uncles, and cousins. We all lived in the same neighborhood except for my godparents who lived about nine blocks away.
Grandma's house was the center of our family, and grandma was the heart. Her kitchen was small and cozy with tall cupboards, two sunny windows, and a large table in the middle of the room. There was always a great big pot of sauce simmering on the stove or a cake, made from scratch, baking in the oven.
It seemed as though grandma was endlessly cooking. I could smell the herbs and spices wafting through the air, and I was always invited to taste whatever she she was creating. Anyone who's ever been to an Italian home could tell you nobody leaves without eating. For my grandmother, food was an expression of love.
I remember the hot Italian sausage we made in volume. It was my job to put the casings on the stainless steel machine that was clamped to the end of the table. Grandma would spice the meat with fennel, hot red pepper, and secret ingredients. Next my mom would fill the machine and turn the crank, filling up the casings with the best sausage in the world. Then my Aunt Anna would take the finished product to wrap in crisp white freezer paper. We always took a few links to cook while working. Grandma had to taste the sausage to make sure it was good. It was delicious!
In the summer, the whole family and half the neighborhood would come to our backyard for a wonderful picnic. All my cousins would play badminton in our large backyard while uncles George and Dee cooked the sausage on the grill. When it was time to eat, the star attraction — grandma's sausage — was gone almost before it could be placed on the table! Everyone would feast and be happy on those warm summer nights when I was young.