Apples & Thyme: Celebrating Time in the Kitchen with Mothers & Grandmothers

When I first read that fellow bloggers at African Vanielje and The Passionate Palate were hosting a tribute to mothers and grandmothers in the kitchen, I knew I’d have to participate.

Like many women who love to cook and bake, I’ve been taught, guided, and inspired by the women who have come before me, namely my mother and paternal grandmother.

I’m not sure how closely I’m playing by the rules, but here is my entry for:

Apples & ThymeLet’s get one thing straight from the get-go: Everything I’ve learned about cooking and baking, I’ve learned from my mother and grandmother.

First and foremost, I’m talking about recipes, of course. I’ve already featured plenty of the best handed down to me from my mother and/or grandmother (click on the photo to go to the recipe):

Italian Wedding Soup:

Italian wedding soup

The World’s Moistest Chocolate Cake:

World's moistest chocolate cake

Breaded Veal Cutlets:

Breaded veal cutlets

Ham and Cabbage Soup:

Ham and cabbage soup

Louise’s Banana Cake:

Louise's banana cake
But as anyone who has ever dabbled in the kitchen knows, cooking and baking are about more than just recipes. I credit my grandmother and mother with teaching me the basics–what heat to use, how often I need to stir, why garlic should be added after onion. These things came from watching the pros at work.

And truth be told, I never really cooked or baked alongside either of them with any regularity; like many masters, they worked best alone, but every now and again, I helped make gnocchi (forked ‘em to make the grooves), mixed meatballs (loved getting my hands gooey), and measured out ingredients for baking (I always was anal).

But what I did most was watch and learn. It may surprise you to know that I never did much cooking or baking at home; I really only started experimenting and getting a feel for the kitchen after I moved out on my own. But when I needed information, experience, and guidance, some things that had been instilled in me from an early age rose to the surface.

And what really sticks with me, each and every time I step into the kitchen, are two major things that I apparently learned by osmosis as they were never stated.

The first is that you need to have confidence in what you’re doing. If you’re constantly second-guessing, you’ll be too nervous to really get into a groove and to let your tastebuds take over, and that lack of confidence will show in the dish.

I learned to cook by trial and error–and many phone calls to my grandmother and mother even with the recipe in hand, but I always had in my mind the mental picture of the women in my life ruling, absolutely commanding, their kitchens. Somehow that seeped in, and gave me confidence as well.

No, things don’t always come out perfectly, but practice definitely helps, and you can’t be afraid to get in the kitchen, get to work, and get comfortable. It gets easier.

And the second lesson? Make it with love. Everything tastes better when you put your passion, your emotions, your love into whatever you’re making, and this transcends food. No matter what you’re doing, if you do it with enthusiasm, it’ll come out better. No going through the motions here–believe me, you’ll taste it.

Both my grandmother and mother always prepared food the same way no matter who was eating the food–whether it was just themselves or upwards of thirty people. And I could always taste the love.

I am so thankful for the lessons I learned in the kitchen from my grandmother and mother as they have most certainly made me the cook and baker I am today–not the best, not the worst, but definitely someone with a sense of confidence, adventure, and joy in my favorite room of the house. And while we’re talking about thankful:

30 days of thanks

Today I’m thankful for:

The wonderful women in my family, particularly my mother and grandmother, although there are many others. My mother is without a doubt my best friend, and I still go to pick up the phone and call my grandmother every now and again even though she passed away six years ago last month.

The bonds we share with other women are always special, but I’ve been so lucky to have such precious relationships within my own family; I know not everyone has that, and I am extremely thankful that I have been so blessed.


You still have time to write up your Apples & Thyme tribute (deadline is tomorrow!), so go to African Vanielje or The Passionate Palate for details.


[tags]apples & thyme, mothers, grandmothers, cooking, nablopomo, 30 days of thanks, recipes[/tags]

33 Beans of Wisdom to “Apples & Thyme: Celebrating Time in the Kitchen with Mothers & Grandmothers”
  1. african vanielje

    Sognatrice, thank you for your wonderful post. Apples & Thyme is not really about rules, it’s about sharing the love and the learning that we got from the special women in our lives. Your post is perfect and I felt like it was exactly what I would say only you said it better. Thanks for sharing. xxInge

  2. Gill

    What a lovely tribute to the woman who had a powerful influence on your life 🙂

  3. Sara

    Ah, the phone calls. I remember when I first started making my own Thanksgiving dinners — well, the best ones weren’t mine per se, but group efforts, but that’s another story for another day. But the first time, when I was 25 and my housemates and I decided we wanted to make a Thanksgiving feast, I remember calling my mother and getting detailed instructions from her about how to stuff and roast the turkey. I kept calling her all day, partly for further instructions, but also because I missed her.

    I did this every year after until the year she died. I’d written it down a bunch of times, but I somehow just couldn’t remember how to do it unless I heard it from her that day on the telephone.

  4. Stefanie

    I always say cooking is not an innate skill… you’re right: you have to learn by watching or being taught by someone else. Neither my mother or grandmother cooked much, so I blame them for my cluelessness in the kitchen.

    I must make that dang chocolate cake someday, though!

  5. witnessing am i

    Thank you for the smile this morning, Ms Sognatrice.

    I would venture to say that your mother and grandmother taught you a great deal in those kitchen, only some of the lessons focusing on food.

  6. Karina

    Sognatrice, I kept nodding my head in agreement as I read this post. I could have written it myself, except I would have thrown my maternal grandmother into the mix as well. Like you, I didn’t spend much time (at all) in the kitchen when I lived at home, but I did grow up watching my mom and grandmothers cook, with love, and passion for what they were doing. And now that I live on my own, I find myself doing a lot of the same things they did. And the phone calls? I still call my mother often when I’m cooking, for her input or advice.

    Another wonderful thing I learned from my mother was to completely improvise on a recipe. My mother never met a recipe she couldn’t improve with her own touches, and although not nearly as talented in the kitchen as she is, I’m following in her footsteps in that I never follow a recipe to a t, I always add my own twists.

  7. sognatrice

    *Inge, so happy that you enjoyed the post; it’s an honor being part of such a wonderful blogging event 🙂

    *Gill, thanks!

    *Sara, I’m the same way! I’m constantly calling my mom for things even though she’s told me a hundred times. Must be psychological, eh?

    *Stefanie, time to buck that trend then! The chocolate cake is really, really good and worth the effort. I promise.

    *Witness, you are quite wise 🙂

    *Karina, so happy you can relate! As for adding twists in recipes, I think that by being comfortable in the kitchen, you start developing that knack for knowing what something needs, which flavors go well together, etc. It’s one of the reasons why writing my WCW recipes is sometimes so difficult!

    As Stefanie said above, it’s not innate, so anyone can do it if you just get in there and do it enough (having those great teachers, though, certainly doesn’t hurt!).

  8. Taffiny

    well that’s that. Now I know why my cooking is so off and on, and often off. Because I lack confidence in the kitchen, you can taste the indecisiveness, and anxiety. Which build up while I frustratingly go forward, thus making there more resentment than love in my dishes, which makes them taste far from delicious. Oh if only someone else in my home would take up cooking, it would be my happy job just to wash the dishes.

    A lovely tribute to your mother, and grandmother.

    And once again the blogosphere has made me hungry.

  9. sognatrice

    Taffiny, resentment is a dish best not served at all. I’m not exaggerating when I say that I don’t cook very well when I’m upset. I make mistakes, add too much salt, burn myself…it also has to be a peaceful process, I think, which Jeni at the Passionate Palate (one of the hosts of Apples & Thyme) wrote about today.

    Patience is *very* important in cooking, not just in a given dish, but overall. Can’t expect to learn overnight or without putting in an effort to learn.

    I would definitely have you over for dinner often if we lived closer. I hate washing dishes.

  10. cheeky

    Hip hip hooray to all the wonderful woman in your life you have been blessed with.
    I have the same fond memories of my grandmother in the kitchen.

  11. Jen of A2eatwrite

    Lovely idea! I wish I’d been able to cook alongside my Grandma. My Grandma and I are the passionate cooks in our family – my mom prepared a few things very well, but she really hated cooking and I don’t think she’s really done any since my father died 15 years ago.

    I love cooking, though, and now I get to share it with a couple of my exchange daughters.

    Lovely tribute to your mother and grandmother!

  12. Frances

    This is so going up on the group blog.
    It’s a cold grey day here in New york, and I am dreaming of a lunch of soup, veal and cake!
    Much bloglove,

  13. flutter

    I am so coming over for veal cutlets!

  14. Roam2Rome

    What a yummy tribute! I’m the same way, I cook from the heart, and add my own twist to everything I do… makes the yummy outcome more rewarding.

    Sognaaaatrice, it’s only day 9 out of 30 in NaBloPoMo! Uf, to think you’re also in the NaNoWriMo…

  15. The Passionate Palate

    Sognatrice – wow, I can feel the love and respect you have for your mom and your grandmother. You are lucky that you learned confidence from them, and of course, cooking with love. Thank you for participating with that beautiful post!

  16. Waiting for Zufan!

    Yep, you can always taste the emotion. Have you seen/read “Like Water for Chocolate”? (Como agua para chocolate.)

    In 2 weeks from today I’ll be peering out the plane window looking for Rome!! On our way to Addis…

  17. AP

    Great post! This was really good for me to read, since I am (slowly) learning to love cooking. I think this post moved me a little further on the way.

  18. Jeni

    Great post – about cooking and also about the important women in your life!

  19. sognatrice

    *Cheeky, so happy to bring back some good memories for you and *so* happy to see you around here 🙂

    *Jen, I can only hope that my future children will get to hang around their Nonnas in the kitchen a bit. I can tell from many of your posts what a great relationship you have with your exchange daughters and the kitchen 🙂

    *Frances, hmm, I wouldn’t mind that lunch either! Can’t wait to see the post up on the group page 🙂

    *Flutter, well you should know that when we make veal cutlets, we make *a lot* so there’s always plenty…never many leftovers though (although I *love* the leftover the next day, cold out of the fridge…yum!).

    *Roam, when you say it’s Day 9 of 30, it’s a bit freaky regarding the blog posting…aaaah! So…many…more…days…in…a…row! But then for NaNo I feel a lot of “Phew! So much more time left!” Perhaps it’s actually good that I’m doing both 😉

    *Jeni, it was truly an honor to participate in this event; can’t wait for more 🙂

    *Waiting, I haven’t, but I’m on a waiting list to get it! I can’t believe the time is finally here–yeah!!!!

    *AP, I don’t know if it’s like this for everyone, but for me, it took a while for me to actually enjoy cooking. I like being good at stuff (most of us do), but I just had to be patient until I got there and until things started coming “naturally.” That’s when the fun begins 😉

    *Jeni, thanks; it was really wonderful to write it as well.

  20. Shan

    What a beautiful post.

  21. Shameless

    It was bliss at the table in your home! 🙂

  22. sognatrice

    *Shan, thanks!

    *Shameless, well, before dinner was usually good–during dinner was a different story sometimes with all the hot-blooded men around….

  23. Laurie Constantino

    Isn’t it glorious that our parents and grandparents rescue us from the swamp of trial and error? Terrific piece; I really enjoyed it. Thank you for posting it.

  24. bird's eye view


    That was a lovely post. I agree with what you said about doing whatever you’re doing with your heart – though I have to say, a lot of the time, my mom and grandmom cook because they love the people they are cooking for, rather than cooking per se right that minute:)

  25. bird's eye view

    PS. Did I mention I envy you for living in my favourite country?

  26. Ann

    Great post and I totally know what you mean about the phone calls. I can’t call my grandmother anymore, but I still call my mother regularly with food questions. Thanks for sharing!

  27. sognatrice

    *Laurie, thanks so much for coming by; I see that you were making Apples & Thyme rounds too 🙂

    *Bird’s Eye View, yes, there are definitely times when cooking is the last thing I want to do, and that’s when I have to focus on who’ll be eating it…including me 😉

    I hope you’ll come virtually visit Italy more often 🙂

    *Ann, amazing how many of us rely on those phone calls, isn’t it? Such a wonderful connection. Thanks for stopping by 🙂

  28. Pieds Des Anges (Kyla)

    Sognatrice thanks for your amazing post. I’m so happy to find your blog!

  29. sognatrice

    Kyla, I’m so happy you’ve found me too! Welcome 🙂

  30. Barb McMahon

    That was wonderful!

    I usually leave the cooking to my husband, but these two “secret ingredients” make me want to get into the kitchen a little more!

    Thank you!

  31. rokh

    your experience is like mine, i have never really cook or bake at home, until i came out on my own and started to practice them. i totally agree, that by making with love, it taste a whole lot better!

  32. Julie

    I, too, continue to make those phone calls and recall fondly the control my mom has over her kitchen! And I agree–one can taste the love that goes into a dish. This was a beautiful post that brought up some wonderful thoughts. Thank you for sharing it!

  33. sognatrice

    *Barb, so glad you enjoyed! Thanks for visiting!

    *Rokh, I think it’s encouraging for others to hear that those of who like to cook now weren’t necessarily doing it our whole lives. Thanks for commenting!

    *Julie, so glad you liked it; thanks for reading 🙂

Michelle KaminskyMichelle Kaminsky is an American attorney-turned-freelance writer who lived in her family's ancestral village in Calabria, Italy for 15 years. This blog is now archived. 

Calabria Guidebook

Calabria travel guide by Michelle Fabio



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