growing up in northern new jersey, i knew a few things were certain. you were likely to be catholic and quite possibly jewish if you weren't catholic. if you were catholic, like my family is, then the chances that you were irish or italian were pretty high. for me and my siblings, there was no either or, we are both irish and italian.
like most families, our food traditions were firmly based around our ethnicity. for my mother's family, my irish side, it was new england yankee all the way. we can trace our roots back before the civil war on this side making the menu a traditional american one. not so much on my father's italian side. they came to america long after the civil war, just around the turn of the century making them italian americans. my great grandmother held on to the tradition of an italian woman; she did a lot of cooking and almost all of it from scratch, including some of the pasta dishes. the sunday dinners looked more like a feast and we won't even get started on holiday dinners. ask my father about them, he can speak at length to the tradition of the seven fishes on christmas eve. all i can remember is the jello she would make for me and all of the milano cookies my great grandfather would share with me.
my grandmother however was not a traditional woman. she was a career woman. having lost her husband to world war two, she went to work as a secretary in an office in new york city. after my great grandmother passed away, she began cooking and sunday dinner became her responsibility. what i remember most from those dinners; mountains of fusilli, meat balls so unbelievably tender, a salad served after the meal and it was often little more than chickory with red wine vinegar, the occasional plate of raw fennel slices, and artichokes filled with a moist bread stuffing.
more than once, i shared an artichoke with a friend who did not know what they were. after explaining how you just scraped the leaves on your teeth to get the flesh, i mainly got odd looks and a hasty "no thanks". when my children came along, i shared this with them as well. luckily for me, my husband knew all about artichokes and enjoyed them almost as much as i do. both of my girls will dig into one with out any coaxing. so it shouldn't surprise anyone that we planted some in our garden. earlier this week, i picked our first three and they were part of our dinner that night.