When you marry into an Italian family, you learn two things about food. It’s made from scratch and there’s always more than enough to go around. Beginning around Thanksgiving, whenever we visited Grandma Therese, her pizzelle iron was sitting on her counter ready for her to make a batch of cookies. Her glass of anisette was never far way either and more than once I mistook it for my glass of water and nearly died after taking a large drink. For a tiny woman, her chuckle could fill the room and her smile was like no other.
Grandma Therese was born in Calabria, Italy in 1899 and followed her husband Rocco to the United States in the early 1920’s. They made a life for themselves along the railroad where Rocco worked every day. A few years after the birth of their last child, Rocco passed away, leaving Therese to care for their six children. It wasn’t easy but she made it work. She eventually remarried and Grandpa Gregario quickly began to show that life with Therese was good.
Everything Grandma Therese cooked was made from scratch, filled with love and undoubtedly, a lot of calories. By the time I had married into the family, Grandpa Gregario had passed but Grandma Therese’s love of cooking was still in full force. She cooked for anyone who visited. If you sat at her table, you were fed wholesome food and lots of it. “Food no come out of a box!” was something she said often. Every time we visited (usually once a week), involved a cooking lesson. I loved to talk to her. Her thick Italian accent made for interesting conversation to say the least. And then you had her hands.
She was well into her 80’s when I met her. Her hands were small and her fingers were quick. She could do things with pasta that would amaze most people. I used to watch her craft a recipe before my eyes. They were never written down and try as I might, I still don’t know how she measured so accurately without a measuring cup or a spoon. My hands were so much bigger than hers I could triple a recipe just by comparing my handful to hers. She did her best to explain it but even years later my Italian dishes are never as good as hers.
The one thing she made sure I knew was her pizzelle recipe. Partly because I would beg for them every year. I was raised in a family of cooks, but Grandma Therese’s pizzelles were like nothing I had ever had before. She made a separate batch just for me every month switching out the traditional anisette and replacing it with almond extract. Her iron had a snowflake design on one side and a geometric pattern on the other. As soon as we walked in the door, there was a plate waiting for us and a bag secretly hidden in the bread box that she would quietly sneak into the diaper bag before we left.
It’s been over 20 years since Grandma Therese passed away. I don’t know who got her pizzelle iron but I hope they use it the way she did. I hope they put as much love into each cookie and a prayer for those who feast on them. Thinking of her brings back the fondest of memories, memories I will cherish and that I hope I can pass on to my kids. Maybe one day I will find an iron like Grandma’s so I can share the pizzelle tradition with them too.
Grandma Therese’s Traditional Pizzelle Recipe
2 cups all-purpose flour
1 cup sugar
¾ cup butter/oleo, softened
1 tablespoon vanilla, almond or anise extract
2 tablespoons baking powder
Coat the pizzelle iron with a light oil or non-stick spray and preheat.
In a large mixing bowl, combine the dry ingredients. Slowly add the butter, eggs, and extract. Mix well.
Drop slightly rounded balls of dough (about a tablespoon or so of batter) onto the iron and close.
Bake as directed by the manufacturer. If you are using a traditional iron, it only takes between 30 seconds and a minute for the dough to turn a rich, golden brown.
Remove the cookie from the iron with a spatula and lay aside to cool. If you want to make canoli-style cookies, roll the pizzelles into a tube.