I used to hear my father say to my mother “sempre le mule, ti fa tutto per le mule” (always the girls, you do everything for the girls). “Le mule” (pronounced mu-leh) were my sister and me. My father loved us, but my mother gave us everything tirelessly. She would do anything for us and frequently did, keeping a beautifully clean home, always having a home cooked meal on the table, working full time in a factory and always being there when we needed her. She loved us unconditionally and deeply, to a point where my father was possibly a bit peeved as she wasn’t spending quite enough time with him. My mother left us unexpectedly on 29 May 2020, after almost two years in an aged care facility at 92 years of age. She has inspired my food journey, and in many ways my life. I have transcribed the short tribute I gave at her service. God speed mamma, there will never be anyone who will love me and give me as much as you did xxx

‘There are many times of our life when we feel especially close to our mothers; when we first start school and she waves us off at the playground gate; or when we break up with our first boyfriend and she tells us not to worry, another one will come along.

I felt closest to my mamma later in her life, in those 6 years she lived on her own in the house in Vermont South, after my father passed away. Much of our time together was spent in the kitchen. I had not been that interested in cooking in my 20s and 30s, but when my father left us, I felt the cultural pull of those delicious and traditional cakes and sweets that I grew up eating. And mamma finally had the time show me how to make them.

Apple strudel, crostoli, frittole and ricotta cake; these were the sweets in her traditional repertoire, the sweets that took me back to Sunday lunches before Barbara was married, and to later times, when the grandchildren came along. For birthdays, religious celebrations, for when she was cooking at the Italian social club, or just because it was Sunday, these were the cakes she made, the cakes of my memory.

So week after week, I went to the house in Vermont South and we cooked together. The recipes were not written down; they were all in mamma’s head. The measurements were not the standard cuciar (spoon) or cichera (cup), but the size of what she had in her kitchen.

Her ricotta cake was the first one she taught me, and the easiest to remember; a mix and bake cake, the one that inspired Pidapipò, a gelateria in Carlton to make a ricotta gelato named after her. She always made it in her rectangular aluminium baking tin. This was one of my father’s favourite cakes and making it meant we often talked about papà, his love of ricotta and his inordinate love of anything sweet.

Then came her frittole – little balls of deep fried hand-mixed dough, with grated green apple folded through the batter. Making these we would talk about when my brother in law Chris had come over to ask my parents for my sister’s hand in marriage. She seemed to be frying frittole for hours, delaying that question being asked for what seemed like an eternity.

Her crostoli, fried ribbons of sweet dough, laced with orange zest and grappa were a labour of love; one that took hours and hours.  It was a task for two: rolling, cutting the ribbons, threading them into themselves into the shape of a bow; and lastly frying them. She taught me every step, patiently and happily, chatting about her zia Rica, who would stretch the crostoli dough on the fogolar (hearth), rather than rolling the pastry through the pasta machine.

Lastly there was her apple strudel, the pinnacle of her cake making. The hand stretched pastry was so thin that you could read love letters (or as she would say, the Globo newspaper) through it. This was perhaps the hardest of her dolci to master. We made it together several times and at some point she would always take over from me, saying my hands were not big enough to lift the rolled up uncooked strudel onto the tray. She would deftly lift it up, using her capable hands, and arrange it on the tray in a typical horse shoe shape. Maybe she didn’t want to see me mess it up. We would always make two – the first one would be eaten as soon as it had cooled down, on the day it was made, and the second one would last no more than 36 hours. It was that good.

Through her stories and recipes she taught me about my culture and my traditions, the ones she and papà had brought with them from Italy. She was patient, giving and loving. Farewell mamma, thank you for being you and for teaching me to make the cakes I will always remember you by.

37 Comments

  • Rose says:

    Beautiful Paola. It was always such a pleasure to see your mamma’s smiling face pop up on my Instagram feed.

  • Lynette says:

    I am sorry for your loss. Thank you for sharing your wonderful memories of your mother. Lynette

  • Stephen John Collicoat says:

    Beautiful, heartfelt tribute to your beloved mamma Paola. When she was young she could have been my own mother’s sister, they looked so much like each other. Reading your blog has brought many memories and a few tears. Thank you for sharing Paola, with love, Soniaxx.

  • marymtf says:

    Our parents are the only ones who love us unconditionally. When our parents go, we are orphans.

  • candaceford says:

    So glad you shared that. I remember saying to my brother when our mother died that now there was no one on earth who loved us more than life it’s self.

  • artbrarium says:

    Paola,

    I had the pleasure of meeting your at Fabrizia’z several years ago. You had visited for the day with your husband, and we were there for Easter week.

    Such a beautifully written tribute to your mother. She certainly left you with a wonderful legacy of love, culture and cuisine. She lives through you. May she rest in peace.

    • That is so lovely that you remember that time at Fabrizia’s – I also remember it well. And thank you for your kind words – I was lucky she left me so much richness. Take care

  • Francesca says:

    A beautiful tribute.

  • Claude tH says:

    My condolences upon the passing away of your mother. I lost mine a couple of years ago, she was 93. I still miss so much being able to talk to her about food and past family ties. Those times are irreplaceable and you have had the good fortune of being close to her these last years. Cherish all these memories.

  • Robin says:

    Loved reading your story about your mamma! What a beautiful lady through and through 💕

  • Anne says:

    Such a loving tribute. I am happy you had the chance to cook with your mother. And you are kind to share your heritage of baking with us!

    I wish I could taste everything she made!

    My mother’s only cookbook was “The I Hate To Cook Cookbook” so I have few memories of kitchen time together. Your blog makes up for that!

    Cheers,
    Anne

    • she was a beautiful cook – everything was made with such love. Of course not all mums are good cooks, but I am sure yours was good at many other things!

  • Cathy Corbo says:

    Oh Paola that is absolutely beautiful. Thanks for sharing and bringing some happiness to my day.

  • Noelle M says:

    What a wonderful tribute. My heart goes out to you on your loss.

    Your Mama was handing you your inheritance during all those hours together in the kitchen: how to love, how to tease out deliciousness from simple ingredients, and how to share this. All the time she was loving you, and you were sharing the memories of your Papa. Mixed together all of these are even greater than the sum of the parts. On the plus side you are now sharing all of this with us, the wonderful thing is that your inheritance is in no way diminished but enhanced. Thank you. x

  • Jo O'Mara says:

    A beautiful post, Paula.
    She was so fabulous. Jo

  • A beautiful tribute, Paola. I know you must miss her dearly but she is forever in your heart. Thinking of you, my friend xox

  • Carmen says:

    So beautiful Paola.
    Your mamma and her memory will live in many hearts. We are so fortunate to have these means of recording precious moments both visually and in words for future generations to treasure. I’m certain your next book will be very special.
    Take care XX

    • we are lucky being able to capture these moments so much more easily – I love that I have so many videos of her just chatting and many cooking photos. Thank you for your thoughts and words Carmen X

  • Rachel says:

    Thank you for sharing this with us Paola. Beautiful words and a beautiful legacy. I will miss seeing her smiling face on your feed, but the photos of her younger years with your father are amazing. Your next book is going to be really special. Take care, Rachel xx

    • thanks so much Rachel, I really appreciate you taking time to write to me. My mamma was indeed beautiful, she left a very special mark on this world and I hope I can continue to do her memory justice through her food X

  • veronica says:

    such a lovely story about your mamma Paola. Whilst you cook her food and remember her she will always be beside you. Thank your for sharing such a beautiful story.

  • What a beautiful tribute to honour your Mamma! Thinking of you…Ciao, Cristina

  • paninigirl says:

    Such beautiful tribute to your mother. It brought me to tears. You are so lucky to have spent all that time with her doing something she obviously loved.

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