A CHILDHOOD MEMORY
by Giovanna Di Gangi
by Giovanna Di Gangi
Childhood memories, especially those that remind us of some particular food or dish, are very often related to grandparents. And so is it for my memory.
It’s not a dish, actually, that recalls to my mind the vivid image of my grandmother. I can smell tomato sauce and basil, but what I am talking about is something quite different than the plain sauce. It’s what in the Sicilian culinary tradition is called “estratto” or, as Granny Mimì used to say “astratto”.
This Sicilian word refers to the tomato sauce that, after having been cooked for a very long time, was laid on a tray and dried in the sun. It was then stored for the winter, into a jar, covered with olive oil. Its use in the Sicilian recipes is what turns a good dish into an excellent one, a masterpiece.
This delicious smell activates in my brain an immediate connection with the word summer.
I can see the sun rays in the late afternoon, their golden light and their warmth that finally starts to be pleasant after the hot temperature of the day. As usual, I am spending my summer vacation at my Grandmother’s house in Petralia Sottana in the Madonie mountains. I am 8 years old.
I can hear the voices of my friends playing in the street: our endless tournaments. Nothing to do with sport, of course. We just used some chalk to draw a track on the street and slowly pushed with our thumbs and forefingers a variable amount of fruit-juice caps from the starting to the arrival point of the track, regardless of being in a sweat in such torrid days.
My friends are waiting for me, they have already started our favorite game but I’m not ready to go with them.
Granny Mimì is on the balcony, she removes the veil that protects the astratto from the annoying flies and starts stirring the sauce. I can’t resist: I just have to pinch a little bit of astratto and quickly put it in my mouth. I swallow it at once before being noticed by Grandma. She never lets me stir the sauce. She says that if she if she did, by the end of the summer we would not have any left for the winter. And she is right!
I have never cooked or used astratto after my Grandmother’s death. I have seen it in the street markets but I don’t dare to buy it. I am afraid I could be disappointed by its taste, for sure so different from the one of my memories.