Cookbook keeps memories
By KIM LOCCISANO, For The Times Leader – Martins Ferry, Ohio
POSTED: January 18, 2009
"The Table My Mother Set"
LOOKING OVER “The
Table My Mother Set, is author Theresa DeCaria and her mother when
it was first released
"Enjoy the recipes - cherish the tradition."
It is with this sentiment readers of a locally authored cookbook by Theresa DeCaria are invited to join her in appreciating the timeless joy of home cooked family-style meals prepared and served in the Italian tradition.
"The Table My Mother Set - A Collection of Traditional Family Recipes from My Mother's Italian Kitchen to Yours," is the title of the Weirton native's first published cookbook. On the market for just over a year, it has already sold more than 2100 copies.
Her father, the late Fortunato DeCaria, was born, raised and educated in Italy. Her mother, the former Virginia Lattanzio, was born and raised in Latrobe, Pa., and is the only one of her generation born in America.
A merging of the family cooking traditions gave rise to the diverse yet traditional fare enjoyed by DeCaria as a child which she is working to preserve as an adult by penning this cookbook of favorite family recipes.
"But they didn't write anything down. You learned to do things by how things looked and felt when something got to the right texture," she said.
The detail did not prove to be a problem.
"My mother and I worked together. We made every one of the 81 recipes in the book. I did the measuring. She made sure we were doing things the right way. That way we got all the measurements, ingredients and the processes written down accurately for the cookbook.
DeCaria's love of family, traditional Italian cooking and foods and a willingness to sharing life's lessons and family traditions with others, speaks to her earliest memories of helping her mother and grandmother in the kitchen.
The value of these gifts is remembered by the author as being greatest when the table was surrounded by several generations of family and friends enjoying a meal together.
The desire to preserve these family heirlooms to share with future generations is the true sentiment at the core of DeCaria's cookbook project.
"I've always been the family historian," she said. "The cookbook is itself a way to share family history and the traditions that mean so much to us all. I have to say it turned out better than I had ever dared hope."
The author grew up in a home filled with the energy generated by of several siblings, relatives and friends, often the only young girl among the ranks of children under roof at any given time.
That translated directly into her receiving the best culinary education available from some very knowledgeable teachers: her parents, grandparents, and other family members as well as the many friends who frequented the family's kitchen.
The DeCaria household was, and still is, the type of home where relatives and friends find they are welcome at anytime, and know room can always be found for one more at the family table.
"How fortunate we were," she reflected during a recent conversation. "To have those we loved with us around the family table and to be able to enjoy a meal together. It was the rule, not the exception. It was wonderful to be raised in that atmosphere."
DeCaria spends her work day as treasurer of the Steubenville City Schools, but her off hours are dedicated to a number of creative interests and a focus on family, friends and community.
Creation of this cookbook brought all those elements together, a process which delighted the author as it connected her to cutting edge digital technology while allowing her to create an avenue through which to share the timelessness of her family's favorite "comfort foods".
"In this age of rapid change, the tradition of passing down recipes from generation to generation is slowly disappearing," said DeCaria. "To capture the flavor and essence of this treasured tradition, this cookbook of family favorites has been especially prepared for you and for those who follow you.
"May these recipes evoke for you memories of you own family foods and traditions, as my mother's recipes have done for me."
The initial stage of the cookbook project was completed some years ago, when DeCaria initially put family recipes down on paper with the help of a typewriter as Christmas presents for several new family members.
Not long ago she decided it was time to act on the often asked question from family: "Get that book written yet?"
It was a decision she has never regretted.
"People will write me or send emails telling me how much they enjoyed making a particular dish because it was so much like what their mother, or grandmother made," offered DeCaria. "To my mother, along with my father, I owe many thanks, first for teaching me the art of fine cooking, and secondly, for teaching me the art of fine living," she said.
The invitation she extends to anyone even glancing through the pages of "The Table My Mother Set" quickly make cooks of all skill levels comfortable with the idea of trying a new recipe.
But the recipes are exactly "new'.
DeCaria's family tree has strong ties to the traditional culinary influences established over many generations by her ancestors, and by relatives today living in the Abruzzi and Calabria regions of Italy.
DeCaria's cookbook is also a sort of photo essay highlighting the beauty of everyday Italian cooking creations, as each of the 81 recipes is complimented by a visual example of what it should look like when made correctly.
Even the photos in the book often evoke a response from a reader.
"People have said even the pictures I took to go with each recipe in the cookbook look so much like what they had seen made by family and friends that the whole experience of making the recipe themselves now is that much more enjoyable," said the cookbook author.
It seems many of the recipes in the cookbook do more than tempt the taste buds, they bring to life again favorite memories of a time when preparation of foods for the family table was more about sharing a sense of love and appreciation for time spent with those around the table as it was of anything else.
The cookbook itself is presented as a beautiful hardback, but features an internal spiral spine, making it extremely practical when busy preparing a meal.
"The table my mother set - it was simple yet elegant, but most importantly it was warm and inviting. This book is a collection not only of the traditional recipes which garnished our family's table, it is also a sampling of the traditions which brought our close-knit Italian family together.
"Try the recipes . experiment with them by adding or adapting them to your own unique tastes. But most of all, savor them and enjoy them with family and friends. at your own table," she said.
"Through my mother's recipes, her legacy will be able to be carried on into future generations, and through my late father's often quoted Italian proverbs, his wisdom will be preserved forever," said DeCaria. "This was my lifelong dream; now it is my reality and my gift to future generations."
She hopes the book will motivate others to take similar creative steps to ensure their family traditions, and heritage - including personal writings and recipes - are preserved to share with future generations.
The cookbook - "The Table My Mother Set - A Collection of Traditional Family Recipes From My Mother's Kitchen To Yours," is written and self-published by Theresa V. DeCaria. The cookbook is available for sale by contacting DeCaria at "The Table My Mother Set," P.O. Box 2315, Weirton, W.Va.; at the Pennsylvania Macaroni Co. in the Pittsburgh Strip District and via the internet at Amazon.com or on E-bay. It is also available at DeCaria's website: tablemymotherset.com