grandma rose

I actually don’t have a Grandma Rose. I had a Grandma Marjorie and a Grandma Myrtle. But my Italian friend, Gina – she had a Grandma Rose. And a few weeks ago, I got to know Grandma Rose a bit. Lucky me.

I’m married to a Libra. Coincidentally, four of my closest friends (there is a fifth, but work moved her out of the area) are also married to Libras (and okay, there’s one Scorpion in there, but he’s on the Libra cusp). Nevertheless, Gina has graciously taken it upon herself to throw these boys a birthday dinner each October. I’ve often felt that I completely lucked out in meeting and marrying my husband, and this is just one more perk to add to the list. Gina puts such thought into each year’s theme and meal. And she insists that we do it properly and get all gussied up. It’s a dinner that I look forward to all year long.
Inspired by a trip to Montana this past summer, Gina decided to cook a genuine Italian feast for this year’s dinner. Now I know know Montana and Italy aren’t commonly associated with each other – especially when food is on the line. But Montana is where scores of Gina’s Italian cousins and aunts live. And so they gathered to cook, to teach, to learn, and to remember Grandma Rose. Prior to the trip, Gina compiled a small booklet of Grandma Rose’s recipes – complete with typos and all. I have a copy. I love it. I live for family stories like this.
The highlight of this year’s birthday dinner (for me at least) was that we got to help prepare it. I’ll be first in line for a cooking lesson any day – especially one with friends. Gina invited us to gather at her kitchen table on Friday morning to help make TORTLACH – also referred to as  “large hats.” Large hats stuffed with an amazing cheese, spinach, breadcrumb filling. Not to be confused with TORTELLINI, Gina explained  – which are “small hats” stuffed with a pork based filling. While making the filling, Gina told us about her Grandma Rose, her food, her cooking, her roots. I smiled when I realized that the more Gina talked, the less she was actually following the recipe that was laid out in front of her. By the end it was a handful more of this, another pinch of that. Gina was doing it all by feel. Grandma would be proud.
Filling ready, it was time to roll out the pasta dough. A flowered tablecloth covered our work surface. I mentioned I had never thought to roll out dough on a cotton cloth. “That’s how we know it’s thin enough,” Gina instructed. “We roll until we can start to see the flower print through the dough.” And yes, we were rolling the dough out on Rose’s tablecloth. I felt honored. Gina coached us, intervening when necessary, and we took turns rolling until sure enough, we could see faint flowers. Gina cut the dough into thin strips and then into squares. Then she gave us a quick “large hat” making lesson. Fill, pinch, wrap around thumb, pinch again.
“Now this is what it’s all about,” Gina proclaimed, as we all pulled our chairs up around the table. “This is where we dish out the gossip.” We joked around as we fumbled our way through making our inaugural large hats. But as filling and making the hats came more easily, so did the conversation. Before we knew it, two hours of talk had slipped away and the counters were overcrowded with trays of tortlach.
We hugged our good-byes and departed filled with anticipation for the next night’s meal. I drove home, feeling accomplished and feeling blessed. Back at my desk life felt richer. And how could it not? I had gained a third Grandma, at least for the day.

6 Responses to “grandma rose”

  1. 1 Gina November 11, 2011 at 2:17 pm

    You make me see my life in a whole new light.

  2. 3 Shelley November 12, 2011 at 8:08 am

    I did have a Grandma Rose. Came as a young woman from Bohemia. And I have such fond memories of her cooking. I only wish that someone, somewhere along the line had learned or written down all those wonderful recipes!

  3. 4 Dani November 12, 2011 at 9:53 am

    What a great post! Thanks for sharing a bit of Grandma Rose.

  4. 5 patti harcharik November 14, 2011 at 2:01 pm


    I loved your writing of our family story. I told Gina I am making a visit to her place to coincide with the Oct dinner!

    Patti from MT

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