Recently, Jackson’s first grade teacher sent home an invitation for parents to visit the class and teach students about a family tradition that we honor. Their class is studying what makes up a family and how traditions play into different cultures. Tom and I were excited to go into Jack’s class together, and that night at dinner we all brainstormed a list of things that we do as a family that make up our traditions.
Strawberry pancakes on Valentine’s Day
Corned beef and cabbage on St. Patrick’s Day
Waffles for Christmas brunch
Sugar cookie cutouts for special holidays
Sunday sauce and meatballs
Uh. Anyone see a pattern here?
We started to laugh when we saw that all of our family traditions revolve around food. I’m not surprised because I know that’s how I show my family that I love them. I fill them near to bursting with good food, feeding their bellies and their souls with my love. This family tradition is one that I grew up with, too.
When I think back to some of my happiest memories, they involve being in my grandma and grandpa’s kitchen on Sundays, surrounded by family and the smell of Sunday sauce simmering all day.
Sundays were the best day of the week. I can still see my grandparents’ kitchen table when we arrived in the afternoon, heaped with the makings of a simple, flavorful lunch. Thick-sliced crusty Italian bread, sometimes still warm from the bakery, spicy capicola and paper thin bologna wrapped in deli wrappers, and an assortment of cheeses spread out to nibble on. The glass mustard jar, with a knife leaning out of it, waiting to be spread on a towering sandwich, and a glass pitcher of warm lemonade with sliced fruit in it.
The children ate hungrily and quickly, and then went about the serious business of playing until dinnertime. Hours later, when the evening came and the smell of basil and oregano met our hungry bellies, we piled back into the tiny kitchen.
By then, the kitchen had grown impossibly louder and more crowded with family. With seven children, my grandma’s kitchen was always filled with as assortment aunts, uncles, and various spouses and children. Presiding calmly over the raucous crowd, of course, were my grandparents, Louis and Marjorie. The women, busy talking, tasting dishes and adding spices and herbs, took turns stirring the huge soup pot full of sauce. They only paused to give us quick swats on the head when we went running by with a stolen bit of leftover bread dipped in the simmering sauce. The men traded stories and talked shop, enjoying the lazy afternoon before we sat down to eat together, a final meal, prepared with love, before the work week started again.
Jackson, Tom, and I decided to bring meatballs and sauce to his class. We left the decision up to him because I wanted the experience to be about what he perceived our most important tradition to be, what he connected to us most fondly as a family. I can’t deny that tears welled up in my eyes when he chose the meal that speaks to me most of love.
We had a wonderful time sharing the meal with his class. My typically reserved and least attention seeking child blossomed while sharing about our tradition. He pointed out Italy on the map and called on his classmates to answer our questions, as comfortable as if he were at our dining room table sharing our meal with family. My grandparents would have been proud.
Over the years, I have modified my grandparents’ recipe to suit mine and my family’s tastes. Most of the time I use Giada De Laurentiis’ recipe for the marinara and meatballs because we like the fresh taste and serving of vegetables. Her recipe is found here. Other times, when I feel nostalgic, I use my grandparents’ recipe that I’ll share here with you.
I hope you enjoy this meal as much as my family does. I hope that you all linger around the table long after the meal is done, talking and sharing memories, while children watch and learn what it means to feed your belly and your soul.
Spaghetti and Meatballs by Louis and Marjorie Traino
- Olive oil
- 2-3 pork steaks
- 3-4 Italian sausages
- 3-4 short ribs
- 1 onion
- 1 garlic clove
- Salt & pepper
- Red pepper flakes
- Fresh or dried oregano
- Parmesan cheese
- 28 oz. can of tomatoes
- 2 small cans of tomato paste
- 6 of the paste cans of water
Fry one or any combination of the meats, pork steaks, Italian sausage, and short ribs, in oil until seared and brown. Add diced onion and fry until translucent. When meat and onions are browned, add minced garlic clove in the pan. Add salt, pepper, and red pepper flakes to taste. Stir in one 28 oz. can of tomatoes, two small cans of tomato paste, and then fill the small tomato paste can six times with water and add that.
Stir in sugar, oregano, and Parmesan cheese, and another sprinkle of red pepper flakes. Simmer 2-3 hours, stirring once and awhile. Serve sauce over spaghetti.
- 1 lb hamburger
- 1/3 cup breadcrumbs
- 1 egg
- Salt & pepper
- Red pepper flakes
- 1 teaspoon oregano
- 1 garlic clove, minced
- 3 tablespoons Parmesan cheese
- Fresh peppermint leaves if available
Fry meatballs in oil until brown. Add them to the sauce to simmer and cook through. Enjoy with crusty Italian Pane bread and a glass of red if you life!
What family traditions do you remember? I’d love to hear your stories in the comments!