Thursday, November 23, 2006

The Tradition of Food

One of the side dishes to our Thanksgiving turkey and ravioli is conversation. Since I was a child, much of this conversation has turned to stories from Depression-era and early life in Memphis. I’ve heard many of these stories many times but I always want to hear them again. This year is no different and the talk turned to why we have ravioli on Thanksgiving. My mother had heard that it was because her grandparents, my great-grandparents, who owned Zanone’s Restaurant in Frayser, made and sold ravioli on a regular basis, so it wasn’t on their family’s daily menu. It was something special for the holidays. That would put the tradition as starting around the late 1960s, early 70s. This story is not accurate. My grandmother, Mimi, says that it was because her grandparents (my great-great grandparents), Charles Francis and Rosalie Cerisola Zanone, who lived next door to them when she was a child, made the ravioli just for the holidays because the process was so labor-intensive and at that time there was no good way to freeze the ravioli, so anything that was made had to be eaten immediately. They lived on Chelsea, at Morehead, in North Memphis, in a house bought for $3,500. This was 1939.

My great-grandparents eventually made their way to the big house on Charlotte Circle in East Memphis, where I spent a lot of my time as a kid with grandparents, aunts, uncles and cousins all over the place. I remember my great-grandfather, Pampa Charlie, standing in the kitchen with his apron on, stirring his slow roaster full of gravy. And I remember my great-grandmother, Mimi K, in that same kitchen, putting a plate of brisket and spaghetti in front of us, imploring us to eat. We ate, because we knew there was cake and ice cream to follow the food. As I grew, I realized that my own grandfather, Pop, was an extraordinary cook. He facilitated my appreciation for prime rib, quail and these wonderful burgundy mushrooms he makes. But he could cook anything.

I don’t cook, though I’d like to. I’ve tried, but it’s never taken. Every time I’m around family, though, the talk, and the activity, always turns to food and eating. I think I might have to have another go at the cooking, and Pop just gave me a slow roaster today so maybe it’s time to get my apron out. I’d like The Quartet to grow up with, not only the appreciation of good food, but the tradition of good food and the memories that are dished up with it.