Her name was Mary Pasteris, and she lived across the fence from my grandmother. Mary was from the Piemonte region of Italy, and my grandmother hailed from Tuscany. As Italian dialects go, the two women could barely understand one another. So, they spoke in English, Mary being more fluent, having been in the US much longer than my Nonna.
At my request, Mary copied some of my grandmother’s recipes for me in English. Today, I pull out the yellowed, dog-eared copy of Nonna’s recipe for bucculata and gingerly unfold the old notebook paper. A dusting of flour falls from between the folds. It brings tears to my eyes. Why have I stopped making this Christmas favorite from my childhood?
I can still picture Nonna in the kitchen with a white apron over her cotton house dress. She has a large ceramic bowl nestled in her lap as she beats the batter with a wooden spoon until it’s light and fluffy. “Only go one way,” she would say, “No go backwards.” (Sorry, I need to stop typing here and have a good cry)
So, this year, once again, I make the bucculata. The tasty pound cake will probably bring out the sugar police and myriad cholesterol protestors, but I forge on. I even go to Google to try to find Spry vegetable shortening, an ingredient not readily available today. Hmm…it seems, I’ll have to substitute because I’d have to travel to Cyprus to buy it. Oh, well…
Nonna’s bucculata was always made with lemon extract and anise seeds, but for her grandchildren, she always substituted vanilla and maraschino cherries. So, I sit with a slice of bucculata and a steaming cup of Christmas Tea of Good Tidings and wonder if it was cheating to use a Mixmaster to beat the batter.
Annalisa Russo is a published author and master storyteller based in Chicago, IL. Currently writing with The Wild Rose Press, she has just released her sixth novel: All Hearts Come Home for Christmas. You can read more about it and the author at annalisarusso.com. Follow Annalisa Russo on Twitter, Facebook, and Goodreads.