I Became a Cook Out of Necessity
Last week, I asked for some help finding my cousin Mark Tedeschi. He owns the copyrights to my Great Aunt Elodia Presenza Tedeschi’s book, “I Became a Cook Out of Necessity.” The book has a ton of non-mainstream recipes and each are worth sharing.
The book, about Italian cooking, was written in 1977 (revised 1988), and there is one used copy of the book on Amazon.
So all the credit of these recipes go to the Tedeschi family originally of the towns of Alberobello, Italy and Presenza family from the Abruzzi region of Italy.
Before I Share a Recipe
Let me tell you about my Great Aunt and her husband Joseph Tedeschi. Their family consisted of three boys … twins Remo and Romolo and the younger son Joseph Jr, who we called Dino. Upon coming to America, they settled in Endicott, NY.
It’s funny the things you remember as a child. Their family home had a bidet. Something I had never seen before and was shocked by its use.
The Tedeschi’s were very generous, cultured and fun to be around.
They owned two grocery stores in Endicott and Endwell, NY. Both called Tedeschi’s Market. They were known for their great meats and butchery.
My dad worked there when visiting during high school. One of his jobs was hitting the goats on the head; so they can be made ready for sale. Don’t worry … the book has no goat recipes.
In 1977, the whole family, even a 14 year old like me, were given copies of the book. Mine was given to include in my cedar chest and dowry in preparation of my future marriage.
Yup, we were that Italian.
Summary of the Introduction of the Cook Book
Aunt Elodia wrote the book from encouragement from family and friends who enjoyed her cooking. Her recipes were all alla casalinga … food prepared in an Italian home.
The youngest of 6 sisters, Elodia married at a young age. Finding herself not knowing how to cook; she had to learn. One of her main responsibilities was to cook for her husband. Her mom and husband gave her suggestions. She reports her first efforts were a hot mess. Over time, she took the suggestions and gave them her own spin. (Thus how she became a cook out of necessity)
At first, she would make things that were very good; but because they were made off-the-cuff she couldn’t duplicate them. In addition she never measured anything. Everything was done by feel and intuition.
This is not in the actual introduction, but I remember when they were working on the book, she and her son’s knew they needed to document everything. So they would try meal after meal to get the ingredient measurements and tastes just right. I can’t remember if it was my cousin Dino or Remo who said, “One weekend, while working on the book, we ate so much of one recipe we were ready to burst.”
Aunt Elodia swore by fresh virgin olive oil and fresh herbs .. parsley especially. She shares a story that when living in an apartment in Italy, they would grow the fresh herbs in their window boxes. In addition to parsley, she recommends oregano, chives, rosemary, tarragon, mint, basil and sage should always be on-hand.
Her belief … Italian cooking is very easy if you are willing to try. However, the most important thing is giving your family things they will love.
Some History of Italian Cooking from Her Introduction
Italian cooking dates back to the Renaissance. When Catherine Medici went to France to marry Henry II, she brought her cooks and kitchen with her. Her foods inspired all of the kingdom. And a little know fact is, that Italian cooking actually is the foundation of the French cooking that gets so much fanfare.
That explains why Northern Italians cook so much with creams, butter and plump tomatoes where more southern regions cook with olive oils and more hearty ingredients. It was also important for her to note that Italians eat crusted breads and rolls vs white bread and butter.
In great detail, Aunt Elodia describes how important the Italian foods ties to the religious aspects of the holidays.
One sweet story, describes how in the Zampognari region of Abruzzi loudspeakers and carolers proclaim the onset of Advent in preparation of Christmas. Shepherds come down from the mountains singing as they enter the town to spend the holidays with their families. The townspeople would give them money and food to thank them for their songs.
As Christmas grows nearer, the grocery stores began to host string figs, nuts, chestnuts, olives, dried and salted fish.
Many Italian-Americans celebrate Christmas eve with the seven fishes and assorted desserts. Aunt Elodia mentions the order in which dishes are served and foods outside the Italian-American traditions. The few that were new to me were eating eel at Christmas eve; eating lentils on New Years day and eating tortellini during the Epiphany (1/6) or little Christmas. Another was Patron Saints Day. It is celebrated like your birthday only on the feast day of your patron Saint. I slightly remember my parents praying extra on mine and my brother’s patron saint days (apparently we needed that), but clearly missed out on the food part. Hmph!?
Every week, I will try to post a recipe from my Great Aunt’s cook book. She was an amazing cook and person full of joy.
If your family has a unique Italian recipe, please share and we will post with you as author. Having a HD picture is a big help.
“I Became a Cook Out of Necessity!
Copyright 1977/revised 1987
Author: Elodia Presenza Tedeschi
Wimmer Brothers Press