Extending THE SENTIMENTAL RECIPE CONTEST! Send in by 10/10

In my book, THIS IS NOT THE STORY YOU THINK IT IS, I include a recipe that I hold near and dear. Not because it’s particularly hard or original, but because of what it represents to me. It is the tomato sauce commonly made in the summer by Tuscans and put up in jars for the winter. They call it the Pomarola sauce, and for it they use the freshest tomatoes from as close to the sea as they can find. The goal: to capture summer.

To me the Pomarola sauce captures much more than that. It is a symbol of a year in my life in which I found my heart language in a place and a family far from home. It is a symbol then, of finding home inside myself in a time of my life when I was morphing from child to adult. It is with this heart language that I went into the “rest of my life” and it was this heart language which I revisited with my daughter 21 years later (a few years ago). I had longed for it for all those 21 years, aching for it, naming it as the most important year of my life, yet not granting my return. I had realized a few dreams, some of which felt within my control: Getting married, having kids, building a home in Montana. Writing books. But I couldn’t seem to get those books published.

So after years of longing for it, I realized that I needed to stop basing my happiness on things completely outside of my control. I could write the books, and I could submit them for publication, but the rest was out of my hands. I decided to embrace the freedom of this surrender. And I started to look at the un-realized dreams of my life that I COULD control. Going back to Italy, with my daughter, to live with this wonderful family, was just that.

So I booked it and went.
One afternoon, my Italian host mother, Milvia, showed us how to make this sauce, how to can it, what to look for in ingredients. It was magical.

Little did I know that my new philosophy of surrender would be put to the test in a way I never dreamed, when my husband announced he wasn’t sure he loved me anymore and wanted to move out—this just two days after my return home from Italy.

There began a season of my life depicted in my book, THIS IS NOT THE STORY YOU THINK IT IS: A Season of Unlikely Happiness, wherein I got the chance to practice what it is to embrace the present moment in a place of creating, not wanting. Of claiming responsibility for my own well-being despite what was going on with my husband. Of focusing on beauty and freedom and even joy. On p. 295 you will find a scene in which I make this sauce with my children, shopping for just the right ingredients, and spending the day up to our elbows in tomatoes, garlic, onions, basil, parsley. carrots, celery and pots of boiling water. On p. 300 you will find the recipe.

In re-visiting those pages now, six months after my book’s publication, I find it not coincidence that we came up with twenty-one jars of sauce. Instead, it feels quite deliberate, subconsciously. As if each jar represented of year of not claiming a dream that was completely within my control, and focusing so hard on another dream that was not.

So I pass on this message to you, in the form of a recipe. What is your Italy? What do you deprive yourself of that you CAN create in your life? What place do you long to re-visit in your life? So often I find that there is the nurturing element of food attached to our fondest memories and even our wildest dreams. Afternoons in a kitchen with a grandmother, a holiday feast with family in town from far-away places, picnics on a beach, a particular glass of lemonade. I’d love for you to share those sentimental recipes here. And a scene or story that shares why you hold that food, that memory, so dear.

The winner will be randomly selected and will receive a free signed copy of THIS IS NOT THE STORY OU THINK IT IS. I look forward to this sharing. Yrs. Laura

My Italian Family’s Pomarola Sauce Recipe
This is a light sauce that is the epitome of the summer harvest and is usually canned to capture summer in the middle of winter. It must be made with the freshest Roma tomatoes to get the right consistency, preferably from somewhere close to the sea.

Sauce for one pound of pasta. Serves six.
2 1/2 pounds unpeeled ripe Roma tomatoes
1 onion
1 clove garlic (Americans generally use more garlic than is the Italian custom.)
1 stalk celery- just the white part, not the leaves
1-2 carrots (depending on how big they are)
3-5 leaves basil
3 sprigs flat-leaf parsley- no stem
A pinch of salt
A pinch of white sugar
2 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil

Cut tomatoes in half. Cut vegetables into small pieces. Rough-cut basil and parsley with scissors. Put all ingredients into stockpot. Simmer, covered, very slowly until the carrot is soft and can be easily mashed with a fork (about an hour and a half). Then pass everything through a passatutto, or food mill– a wide-mouthed hand-cranked strainer. Keep turning the passatutto until only the seeds and skins are left. Then put the sauce back on the stove until it reaches a boil. You may need to cook it for a bit longer to ensure desired consistency.

If you’d like to make a big batch of this sauce for canning, then adjust ingredients proportionately, adding an extra hour or so before passing the ingredients through the food mill, and after returning the sauce to the stove. Working with eleven pounds of tomatoes at a time is a good amount.

At this point you can serve or keep it in the refrigerator for a week, or put it in jars. Use the ones that have a self-sealing lid– which pops as the sauce cools and provides a vacuum seal, making it possible to store for months. The wonder of this sauce is in its fresh ingredients and its simplicity.

Here’s a blurb for my book written by my dear friend and literary hero. If you haven’t read his “Brother’s K,” you simply must.
“With amiability, wit, and a modicum of self-pity, Laura Munson’s memoir reminded me of the twenty-one jars of organic tomato sauce she and her children hand-made. A chapter is like a jar lid: if it doesn’t pop as the contents cool, the seal is faulty and the sauce is worthless. Exhausted from their all-day effort, mother and kids sipped hot chocolates and listened as twenty-one jars cooled. To their satisfaction, they counted twenty-one distinct pops. In reading this brave memoir I counted about the same.” —David James Duncan, author of The Brothers K and God Laughs & Plays


Filed under Contests! Win a signed hardcover of THIS IS NOT THE STORY YOU THINK IT IS!, My book: This Is Not The Story You Think It Is: A Season of Unlikely Happiness, My Posts

14 Responses to Extending THE SENTIMENTAL RECIPE CONTEST! Send in by 10/10

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  2. Thank you for writing this. What a refreshing splash of hope during a day that started out full of praise but buckled into weariness and worry. A wonderful reminder of so many things, the goodness of food not the least of them.

    • lauramunson

      Oh good. Deep breath. No worry now. Just words and reaching out and finding generosity and sharing and being witnessed out here in cyber land. Love to Katie. yrs. Laura

  3. The best part about growing up with my grandmothers nearby was that one of them didn’t cook, and she always took us out to nice restaurants to eat. My mother’s mother, Grandma Else, was a fine cook, and could turn out a wonderful meal where everything was hot at the right time, and looked and tasted just right. My father’s mother, Grandma Florrie, was fond of burned meat and a J&B on the rocks with a splash of seltzer and a twist of lemon. Oh, and Stouffer’s corn souffle.

    So the funny part is that in our family, the favorite dessert is the ONLY recipe shared in my Grandma Florrie’s name, “Blueberry Kuchen” (pronounced the German way). My cousins have a different version in their family, but I think it’s because both our moms improvised when their mother-in-law “taught” them how to make this!

    Blueberry Kuchen (my mom’s version of Florence Eiseman’s recipe)

    For an 8×8 or 9×9 pan
    Preheat oven to 375

    1 c. flour
    1/3 c. sugar
    1 stick of softened butter (don’t bother using margarine)
    optional 1 egg yolk

    Mix together until dough can form large clumps. Press into the bottom and sides of an oven-proof baking dish (I use Pyrex glass square)

    1 pint blueberries
    1 T flour
    1 T sugar
    Mix together and spread on the crust.
    Dot with butter

    Bake 30 minutes until crust is golden brown.

    Aunt Judy’s version of this recipe adds some lemon juice or lemon zest, and we always serve it with vanilla ice cream (although I experimented and ginger ice cream was delicious, too!)

    • lauramunson

      I’m so excited! Our first sentimental recipe entry. I love that it’s from honest women in the kitchen, improvising, and knowing that really it’s about being together. I want to hang out witih Florrie and have a J&B, and oh heck– Stouffer’s corn pudding. THANKS FOR SHARING! yrs. Laura

  4. I don’t have a recipe yet, but I do have a place. I attended school one summer in Dijon, France. It was an amazing summer. While I was there, I discovered their pizza – woodfired margherita pizza. Delicious.

    One night I went out with a group of people, mostly French and Moroccan. Each of us ordered a pizza. When my was delivered, I sliced into it, cut a wedge and lifted it with my hands to eat. My boyfriend was appalled. “Que tu fais?” What are you doing?

    They eat their pizza with a knife and fork. I still laugh at his horrified facial expression.

    I want to go back to Dijon and taste the pizza and the delicious pastries and all the other wonderful things I got to experience while in France.

    Thank you for sharing your beautiful story with us, Laura. And that recipe. Yum.

    • lauramunson

      I can see it, smell it, taste it, feel it in my fingers. Yummmm. My daughter was so confused by the pizza in Italy. So NOT what we eat commonly in the US. If you can find a recipe for that Margherita pizza, I know everyone would LOVE it. Thanks for sharing, Lisa! yrs. Laura

  5. The Pomarola sauce recipe makes me miss Italy. I don’t think we can get those Romas in the US.

    For the last few Summers my girlfriends at the Episcopal Church of St Matthew in San Mateo and I have gotten together to can California Peach Chutney. We sold some jars of Chutney at the church Christmas Bazaar and gave the others away as gifts to friends and family.

    The Chutney is delicious by itself or with Brie cheese or as a garnish with curried meat dishes.

    Here’s a recipe for about 15 lbs of good peaches.

    15 lbs peaches
    5 cups dates
    10 cups cider vinegar
    10 cups brown sugar
    5 tsp allspice
    5 tsp ground nutmeg
    1 1/4 tsp red pepper flakes
    5 cups golden raisins/figs
    10 small onions
    2.5 cups crystallized ginger
    10 tsp salt

    The ingredients are simmered in a very large pot for about 30 minutes to an hour then canned per the usual Bell jar canning instructions. It is a lot of work but we look forward to the reassuring “pock” noise as the jar lids seal.

    This link http://bit.ly/d2Dwe1 has a photo of the canned peaches and a downloadable Excel doc that scales the ingredient amounts based on the total weight of the peaches.

    The best part about making the Chutney is getting together with friends. We all sit around my dining room table with knife and cutting board, whiling away the day with stories while we cut up mounds of onions, dates and peaches.

    The simmering Chutney smells divine.

    • lauramunson

      How lovely! Thanks for the mental and photo images! Chutney is deelish, and I’ll have to try this recipe. It occurred to me as I was reading the ingredients that it might be fun to try it with sweet onions, like Walla Walla, or Vidalia… Thanks, Susan. yrs. Laura p.s. our local organic farmer has a annual salsa making party which reminds me of your chutney party. So wonderful all that chopping and chatting…

      • Thanks Laura. You might find that the sweet onions make the Chutney a little too sweet overall. We always use regular yellow onions and they give a nice balancing bite to the sweetness. But by all means experiment — that’s what cooking is all about.

  6. Melinda Bryce

    My father says I have the picking gene in me. We came from a family of harvesters… Strawberries in June, blueberries in July, Raspberries and tomatoes in August, apples and pears in september and October. We didn’t have our own garden when I was little, or live particularly near a farm. My father, brother and I would make trips down from our Northern Michigan home town to Bay City, where my dad’s family still lived, for picking berries.

    But berries went bad quickly, so we’d rush home and prepare the kitchen right away for making pies or jam. For me, the fun of berries ended when we left the farm.

    My favorite was the apple season. On a brisk Saturday in late September, my dad would bundle up my brother and me and we’d go for a slow car ride to Charlevoix’s apple festival. We ate apple cake and shopped the little tents for crafts. Then we would head out to the orchard. I always chose a bushel of Golden Delicious, my brother Red Delicious, and my dad chose Macintosh. Then there was the bushel of Ida Reds for baking. Too dry and tart for eating, that basket would go untouched until we got home… carefully chosen pumpkins for our Jack-O-Lanterns in tow.

    That Sunday we would make pies. My brother and I peeled countless apples, trying our hardest to get the peel off in one continuous spiral. Then we’d slice the fruit into large bowls, adding sugar and cinnamon and flour while my dad made dough for the crusts. By the end of the day, we’d have a dozen unbaked pies sealed in freezer bags nestled together in our deep freezer. And we’d have one warm and gooey apple pie in the oven.

    My father was amazing. He raised my brother and me the best he knew how. When I became a mother, buried in parenting books and conflicting theories-enough to make my head spin, he said he guessed he never had time to read those kinds of books. He just did what he thought he should, and we turned out okay. I admire his gentle strength and his confidence that it didn’t matter what method you used to raise your children, as long as you did it with love and joy.

    Yesterday, my ten year old son made Grandpa’s pie… all by himself. Tears welled up in my eyes when he cut the first slice. I think I realized that maybe this apple didn’t fall too far from the tree after all.

    Grandpa’s Apple Pie

    Peel, core, and thinly slice 8-10 Ida Red, Jonathan, or Macintosh apples into a large bowl. Add one cup of brown sugar, one teaspoon cinnamon, and one tablespoon flour or corn starch and mix well.

    In another large bowl, place two cups of flour. With a fork, chop in one cup of shortening until the mix resembles pebbles. Gently fold in 1/2 cup icy water until the dough can form a ball. Turn it out onto a floured surface and gently knead a few times until the dough stays together well. Flour your rolling pin and roll out a large circle of dough. Place it in a pie pan, pressing it in. Cut off loose edges.

    Pour in filling. Roll remaining dough and place on top of filling. Pinch bottom and top crusts together around the edges. Slice a few vent holes in the top. Bake in 350 degree oven for 45min. to an hour or until crust is browned and filling is bubbly. Serve a la mode.

    • lauramunson

      What an image you shared here. THANK you for it. It made me cry thinking of you crying over your ten year old’s pie. Our fathers and grandmothers are with us…and how beautiful to find them in such a thing as pie. Truly. yrs. Laura

  7. Maggie Neal Doherty

    The night before Thanksgiving, before and after my parents divorced, we’d pile into my mom’s car and make the hour and half drive north from our home in the woods, cross the Mackinac Bridge, and head east along a rural highway to a chain of islands, skirting the mainland and empting in the big blue of Lake Huron. Thanksgiving was always spent with my grandmother, and with her writer husband Phil before he died. Aunts, uncles, and cousins—the ones who lived in Michigan would make the drive north to the mainland that’s been our access to our cabin on an island that’s been a part of this mixed and remixed family since the 1960s.

    In my family, the family that’s suffered through a death of my aunt Darcy, a beautiful and creative artist, who really, damn it, shouldn’t have been the one to leave us, the family that’s has a matriarch bury three husbands and raise four incredibly intelligent and independent woman, the family who’s love of an island has shaped each and every sister, brother, mother, father, daughter and son. And what’s probably the most indentifying of our family are not our losses, but what ties us together, despite the occasional bitter disagreements: food.

    We’re the family who’s just part way through breakfast and we’re already planning the menu for dinner. We love to cook and eat and sit on the deck, overlooking the rocky shore of Lake Huron and sit and snack on cheese and drink cocktails.

    With so many of my grandmother’s children and grandchildren making the nighttime drive to her house, she gave up on cooking a dinner, pre-Thanksgiving meal, that would require multiple reheating with each family arriving at different times, and instead, opted to make chili that could simmer on the stove for most of the night to feed her family as they shook off their snowy coats, rubbed their road weary eyes and began the Thanksgiving weekend festivities.

    What began as a way to lessen the burden on my grandmother with preparation the traditional Thanksgiving dinner became a family tradition and even, if you can believe, a competition. Yeah, not only do we like to eat, we like to turn our cooking prowess into a competition. Thus, the launch of the Neal Family Chili Cook-off (we’ve decided it easiest to settle on the family name of my grandmother’s second husband, Donald Neal, who gave us my mother’s three sisters and two brothers, the cabin, and was her deepest, truest love). As if we really needed any more food during our long weekend of nibbling, feasting and reheating of leftovers.

    Recipes hardly matter with my family. They’re used mostly as guidelines—extra spices in the pumpkin pie batter, and our stuffing is loosely based on the recipe from the Williams and Sonoma catalog. And so goes for our chili, but there is one standard: at the chili cook off a “red” and “white” chili must be represented. Red chili is made with ground beef, tons of beans of all varieties, tomatoes, sautéed vegetables, a lot of spices, a bottle of beer and three chocolate kisses—my mom claims the chocolate helps with the acidity from the tomatoes. White chili is chicken chili with white beans, Monterrey Jack cheese, onions, and diced green chilies. With both, extra cheese, raw onion and sour cream are served on the side.

    My home now is in the mountains, nowhere near Lake Huron or my mother or grandmother. Many Thanksgivings have passed since I’ve been home, and recently, Thanksgiving hasn’t been celebrated at my grandmother’s mainland house in the tiny community of Cedarville. My cousins have grown and many of them have families of their own. My mother’s remarried. My brother’s a chef in northern California. With his wife, my father’s relocated to New Mexico. And while the location of our family Thanksgiving has changed, we still, in our own ways, enact the family tradition of the chili cook off. I try, from my mountain ski town, to prepare white chili the night or two before Thanksgiving. My version of white chili includes corn, homemade chicken stock and jalapenos along with the green chilies.

    What I’ve learned is that it doesn’t really matter what you cook on Thanksgiving or the night before or even what you served for dinner on last Monday night. It doesn’t matter if the recipe comes from a magazine, a cookbook, or passed on from a friend. What really matters is that through food, perhaps a bowl of simple chili, a family can learn to grow, to heal, to recover, to love, and stick together.

    • lauramunson

      Maggie– sounds like I’d be right at home with your family. This reminded me of the movie Water for Chocolate when the women are crying into their food and thusly heart and grief and passion are processed and healed. Thanks for sharing this beautiful entry. You are a talented writer and now, though I just finished a deelish meal at my friends’ in CT out here on book tour, I could eat a bowl of white chili. Even with tart tartin at the top of my belly. yrs. Laura.

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