Copyright (c) 2010, The Dominion Post, Morgantown, W.Va.

Re-creating her mother's table: Woman writes down her mom's recipes, creates cookbook

Wednesday, June 23, 2010 8:07 AM

(Source: The Dominion Post (Morgantown, W.Va.))trackingBy The Dominion Post, Morgantown, W.Va.

Jun. 23--When Theresa DeCaria's sister-in-law married into the family nearly 20 years ago, she asked DeCaria for a favor.

"She's not Italian," DeCaria said, "and she wanted my mother's recipes. But the problem was, my mother never wrote them down."

So DeCaria, of Weirton, decided to do what many daughters, daughters-in-law and granddaughters have wished they had done -- she decided to stand there and watch while her mother cooked. And when her mother went to throw in a "dash" of oregano, DeCaria measured that "dash" and wrote it down. Ditto for a "pinch," or "a splash," or any other nonmeasured measurement her mother had been using for years.

"We spent quite a few hours in the kitchen," she said with a laugh. "And then I'd try making the recipe alone, with my measurements, to make sure it matched."

There were more than a few mistakes -- dishes that, while good, weren't quite her mother's. Not that her family minded, seeing as how they got to feast on DeCaria's mishaps. Once DeCaria got each one right, she's snap a few digital photos of the dish, to go along with the recipe. And through it all she kept saying that one day, she'd publish it, but for one reason or another, never got around to it.

"Then one day I thought, 'Well, I guess I'm ready to put this into a book,' " she said.

And put it into a book she did, self-publishing, "The Table My Mother Set." Since then, the cookbook has gone into its second printing, and she's received Internet orders from cooks all across the country.

A couple of the things that make the book unique, DeCaria said, are that it is spiral-bound -- so it can lay flat -- and the pages are all glossy, so they can be easily wiped off, in the case of some wayward gravy, or if a bit of the cook's Chianti sloshes over the side of her glass. There are also photos of every dish.

"I think people like to see what it's supposed to look like," she said.

The book has also been selected as a category finalist for the 2010 Eric Hoffer Award, according to Dawn Show, with The Eric Hoffer Award for Books and Prose, and was named a winner in the International Book Awards General Cookbook category.

But it's the letters from customers that DeCaria cherishes the most, she said.

"I get a lot of letters from people who say, 'You could have put me in those pictures' [family pictures used in the cookbook]," she said. "A lot who say they wish they had written down their family recipes. Stories about how their parents always fixed polenta. And I know I probably would have taken it all for granted if it hadn't been for my sister-in-law.

So I'm very thankful I had this opportunity. It's probably the best thing I've ever done in my life."

The book includes traditional recipes, such as Easter bread, red sauce, meatballs and more, as well as several desserts. Recipes, DeCaria said, her mother is more than happy to share with the world.

"She's very excited about the whole thing," DeCaria said. "It's exciting for all of us, down to cousins of cousins. And for the second generation -- they grew up on this food, but they didn't grow up in the kitchen like we did. So it's been a big hit, both inside and outside of the family. It's very heart-warming."

But DeCaria doesn't intend to stop with "Table My Mother Set." After all, her mother has a lifetime of cooking knowledge to share, cooking knowledge that goes way back.

"I have two or three ideas for new books," DeCaria said, "because I have so many recipes. I have to get moving."


From "The Table My Mother Set" by Theresa DeCaria

1 pound ground chuck or ground sirloin 1 teaspoon finely chopped parsley or parsley flakes 1 egg 1/4 cup breadcrumbs 1/4 cup Romano cheese 1/2 teaspoon garlic powder (or one fresh clove, finely chopped) 1 tablespoon water Salt and pepper to taste 2 tablespoons olive oil for frying

Mix all ingredients but oil together. Shape into patties and fry in oil on medium heat until browned on both sides. You may also bake the patties in a pre-heated 350-degree oven for about 20 minutes (add a little water to bottom of pan before baking).