When I was a kid, my grandmothers were constantly cooking and wonderful aromas permeated throughout their apartments. Sarah lived on the first floor of the tenement we lived in on Frankfort Street in East Boston, and Viola lived around the corner on Maverick Street. The cool part of it was that Sarah and Viola were not only my grandparents, but they were also great pals who were together all of the time. I saw them every day and ate with them quite often. They since have left us, but I think of them often. They were both born on July 1st, so of course, at this time of year they always come up in conversation. A discussion recently arose about their cooking styles and specialties, and it reminded me of my perfect meal.
My grandmother Sarah made the best gravy around. For those of you who are not Italian, let me clarify the difference between sauce and gravy. Just because it’s red and made with tomatoes does not deem it to be sauce. When there is meat in it – meatballs, whole sausages, etc. – it’s called gravy. Of course, if it’s crumbled up beef or pork, it’s still a sauce ~ Bolognese style. But I digress. My grandmother Sarah’s gravy was to die for, and her meatballs were always moist and melted in your mouth. She mastered Italian gravy; everyone who tried it agreed. That’s not an easy feat, because typically, you are partial to the style you grew up with; however in Sarah’s case it was unanimous ~ Spectacular.
Viola, who did a nice job with gravy, couldn’t compare. Don’t worry, I never, ever told her – that would have been stupid and hurtful, but it was true just the same. That being said, she was a magician when it came to making homemade pasta. I am not exaggerating when I tell you that her hand-rolled spaghetti was the most spectacular pasta my taste buds ever had the privilege of dining on. When she made them, there were trays of pasta all over the house: on her bed, tables, and countertops. Her apartment was like a little spaghetti factory. They were so light and delicious that it was pure delight every time we had them, even with her subpar gravy. Don’t get me wrong, for most people, her gravy would be out of this world, but I was just spoiled with my grandmother Sarah’s gravy and meatballs.
My entire childhood, I dreamed of the marriage of the two: Sarah’s gravy on Viola’s pasta. I imagined how wonderful the merger would be and how harmoniously they would dance together. Every time we ate over at Grandma Viola’s house, with every bite, I would imagine how great her pasta would be with Sarah’s gravy, and vice versa. I even mentioned it to my mother when I got older. But what could I do? It was never meant to be. I could never say to either of them that I would prefer Sarah’s gravy with Viola’s pasta. They both would be devastated. I would never be able to introduce the concept; it was just not respectful.
Then, those words “never say never” came into play and a miraculous opportunity presented itself. Patricia and I were just married and coming home from our honeymoon and we wanted to invite our grandmothers and family up to our apartment for dinner. Both grandmothers responded, “Let me cook,” which didn’t surprise me, as they always wanted to be helpful and Patricia hadn’t reached her legendary chef status at the time. The wheels began turning… I called Grandma Sarah and said that Viola had offered to cook too. I explained that I didn’t want to hurt either of their feelings, and wanted to include them both in our first dinner party. I asked, if it was ok … would they share the duties and could she make the gravy? She was thrilled and agreed. I then called Viola and had a similar conversation, and she too, was all in to make her famous homemade spaghetti. A sense of euphoria overcame over me. I was about to pull off the unobtainable. The night arrived and the two matriarchs took over our tiny kitchen. My ultimate culinary dream was being created, and it did not disappoint. It was exactly as I had imagined it: the perfect merger of gravy and spaghetti. It was incredible, and my taste buds were in heaven. My quest was complete.
That was the one and only time the two collaborated in the kitchen. However, its brilliance will never be forgotten. Those two ladies taught me a great deal throughout my life, but that combined effort has accentuated the fact that with patience and persistence, anything is obtainable. Anything. So never say never, especially if it’s a goal that you dream to achieve.
I miss them both and only wish you had the chance to know them. Much love ladies.