Fleur-de-String

Squirrels and floodwaters have wreaked havoc on my “temporary” storage area in my mom’s barn. Many of my treasures were packed in plastic tubs, but my budget for plastic tubs only went so far, and I resorted to State Store boxes.Fly Away

My fall project is rescuing all of the damaged boxes (it’s been three years, after all) to save what is packed away inside.

So far; so good. One broken wine glass, and I won’t blame that on squirrels or heavy rains. But it is slow going; too many distractions.

I found my copy of the Marcon Family Cookbook, First (and last) Edition, August 25, 1990, and started flipping through the pages.

The cookbook was printed for the Marcon Family Reunion in Bethlehem, where I was introducing my new husband and new baby to the far reaches of the Marcon clan. I submitted Paul’s Green Bean Salad and our “Honeymoonwich” (smoked turkey, sprouts, walnuts and mayonnaise on pumpernickel), as well as Nene’s Polenta, to honor my late grandmother:

1 ½ quarts water

2 tsp. salt

1 ½ cups yellow cornmeal

In a heavy 3-4 quart saucepan, bring water and salt to boil. Pour cornmeal slowly into boiling water, making sure the boiling never stops and stir constantly (to avoid making lumps). Reduce heat and simmer, stirring, 20-30 minutes until it is so thick that a wooden spoon will stand up unsupported in the pan.

Below that entry was a similar polenta recipe submitted by my grandmother’s older sister, Mary. The ending caught my attention and jogged a memory. “Turn (polenta) out onto a cloth-covered board (large napkin or clean dish towel). Turn ends over polenta and let rest a few minutes. Slice with cord string and serve with chicken gravy or any meat sauce. Sprinkle with Parmesan cheese.”

For the life of me, I can’t remember if I ever saw Nene cut polenta with a string, or if she just told me that was how they did it “in the Old Country.” Martha Stewart updated the Italian tradition by suggesting plain dental floss, of all things. All of the times I’ve made polenta, I’ve just scooped it with a big spoon, or sliced it with a knife. So I emailed my cousin Luca, who talked to his father Settimio in Treviso asking about the string and polenta. (Actually, Settiimio is related to my grandfather (a Fedon) not my Marcon grandmother, but heck, the Fedons and the Marcons were all from Northern Italy, just a couple villages apart.)

The habit of cutting polenta with a string was probably born back in the old days, when Italians didn’t have that many knives in the kitchen during or after The War, Luca reports. But, he adds, the string method continues because it is actually a better way to cut polenta. “When using a knife, the polenta tends to stick on it, while the string cuts right through.” I may just give it a try! Laurie Lynch

SunsetA Third Variation of an Italian Proverb: In my Oct. 10 blog I mentioned an Italian saying about pears and cheese. Then, Laura commented with her rhyming (in Italian) version. Now, I have come across a third on a fascinating site: http://italyrevisited.org

“Al contadino non far sapere quanto e buono il formaggio con le pere.” It is translated as: Don’t let the peasant know how good cheese is with pears…but according to the site, the meaning behind the saying is “Don’t let the poor know how good it is to be rich.” So much for social justice—I thought it was a simple statement about a good food pairing.

Tortellini Report: When I last heard from my Chef-phew Wille, he was in Bologna “learning from grandmothers, literally,” he wrote. He, another fellow, and nine women are churning out 70 kilos (154 pounds) of hand-rolled tortellini a day in a “pasta laboratory” to prepare for the Christmas rush. Looking forward to a lesson from the pro.

Musical Interlude: Last night my mom and I went to see Brother Sun as part of the Acoustic Brew series in Lemont. She just loves the audience participation, singing choruses or clapping along. If you want a good laugh on a quiet Sunday, check out Brother Sun’s “Fox News” on YouTube.

Written on Slate: “Humankind has not woven the web of life. We are but one thread within it. Whatever we do to the web, we do to ourselves. All things are bound together. All things connected.”—Chief Seattle, 1854

3 thoughts on “Fleur-de-String

  1. Laurie, I cannot tell you how much I enjoy your blog!!! I have the cookbook!! Ray’s mom made polenta as well; however, no string used ….. well maybe once to show me. xo Pam

  2. In some of my cookbooks, they say to use a string to cut cookie dough, the kind you roll up into a fat sausage and slice. The string keeps the dough from squashing like happens when using a knife. I never did it though.

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