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Food as Heritage: Grandma’s Taralli
500 Tasty Sandwiches firmly believes in food as heritage. We asked readers to contribute stories and recipes in order to preserve and share the gastronomic memories of their families. Today’s contribution comes from Jay who lovingly remembers his Italian-American grandmother and her famous taralli.
Taralli are a kind of Southern Italian snack that’s like a refined version of a breadstick and a pretzel, made with oil and fennel. They are one of my fondest memories of my grandmother, she made them all through my childhood and I can remember making them with her in the kitchen of my family’s summerhouse out in Nissequouge when I was a boy. Up until the last year of her life, she was still making them. They would take a lot of time, though, so she didn’t do it often. But every so often I’d visit and I might mention how much I love them (which she knew, it was no secret that all of her grandkids pretty much considered them “Grandma’s Crack”) and the next time I’d go, she’d have tins and tins of them made. In fact, when she was in the hospital, before she got very ill, I was visiting her and we got to talking about them. I told her (again) how much I loved them and she said to me “When I’m back home, you’ll have to come over and make taralli with me.” And I said that I would and I really meant it - I really wanted for her to get released soon and I planned to go to my parent’s house that weekend and spend the whole day in the kitchen with her. I thought about what a great memory that would be for me. I really longed for it. But she never got better, and in fact just got worse, and she never did go home from the hospital. She slipped into dementia from that point on, so I remember that conversation as one of the last fully cogent ones I had with her. It was a date. But it just never came to be.
My sister has the recipe and she does a pretty good job with them. She makes them almost exactly like my grandmother used to, and I’m grateful as hell that she can because I’d hate to lose them. Grandma’s Taralli have an almost hallowed reputation in my family. Especially now that my grandmother is gone, when I eat them, I’m just transported back to my childhood, to my grandmother’s house, to our old summer house in Nissequouge. They simple flavor have a way of reminding me on a very visceral level of everything I loved about my Grandmother and make me feel closer to her.
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