Monday, April 15, 2013

A-Z April Challenge M for Melancholy Memories of Sunday Morning Meatballs

I am participating in the A-Z April Challenge.
Today's letter is M:

Melancholy Memories of Sunday Morning Meatballs

My siblings and I went to church every sunday.  Even though my parents did not go to Mass, they made sure we all went.  As I write this, I just had a thought.  It may have been the only bit of time that Romeo and Priscilla had to themselves. Hmmm.

Anyway, while we were at church, following the rituals of Sunday Mass, my mother would begin the Sunday morning ritual of making "the gravy," (or pasta sauce as others may call it. )

We attended St. Matthews church.  It was one street over and down the block from where we lived.  It was a short 10 minute walk.

Generally, every Sunday, we would receive Communion.  At that time, one had to fast before receiving Communion.  That meant that by the time Mass was over we were starving.

When we reached our street, we could smell the sweet aroma of garlic, onions, basil, and crushed Italian plum tomatoes from all the way down the block.

The back door of our house opened into the kitchen. The first thing we did when we got inside was grab a hunk of Italian bread and dunk it in the gravy.

mmm, mmm, mmm.  I can smell it and taste it right now.

My mother would be at the stove, tending to the meatballs which were sizzling in a black cast iron frying pan, next to the big pot of gently bubbling gravy.

She had a strict order of things when making the gravy.   The browned sausage and pork neck bone would go into the pot only after the tomatoes had come to a frothy boil, and then had finally calmed down to a simmer.

The meatballs would be the last to go into the pot, after the pork meats had cooked in the gravy for an hour.

I'm sure the recipe for the meatballs, that my mother used to make,  was passed down from generation to generation.  By the way, I use the word recipe very loosely here,  because there were no exact ingredient measurements.
To learn how to make these meatballs, I had to watch my mother make them, just as I am sure she watched my grandmother make them.

Which is why, even though everyone in the family used the same ingredients:
ground beef, chopped garlic cloves, fresh chopped Italian parsley, bread crumbs, salt, pepper, eggs (the number of which varies according to the amount of meat) and Parmigiano Reggiano cheese, no one's meatballs came out tasting exactly like another's.

Which is also why my brother, Ray preferred my Aunt Nancy's meatballs over my mother's and I liked my mother's meatballs better than my own.  Jen says she would rather eat my meatballs instead of the ones she makes.  Or actually Jen says the same thing to me that I said to my mother.  "Why don't my meatballs come out like yours?"

One Sunday morning as we headed down the church block to go home,  one of our friends came running up to us yelling, "Your house is on fire!  Your house is on fire!"

We all started running.  When we got to the top of our street we could smell it.  It was not the comforting aroma of the familiar, but rather a rude, pungent, stifling odor of black smoke.

Thanks to the quick thinking of my father and the speed of the fire department, most of the destruction to the house was limited to smoke damage.

That particular Sunday was the most vivid memory I have of those Sunday morning rituals.

After the firetrucks left, my mother put on the pot of water for the macaroni and cleaned off the kitchen table.  Then we sat down, as we always did, to our Sunday afternoon meal of macaroni and meatballs.

It was a couple of weeks, maybe even a month before we could move back into the house. My mother and father stayed during the clean-up.  We were farmed out to family and neighbors.  But, we always came home for our Sunday macaroni and meatballs.


  1. Ah, yes, family rituals! We had the Sunday Mass thing going on too. As younger kids (before we could drive ourselves), the kids generally were required to attend the 7:00 or 8:00 Mass with my dad - he, of course, decided which one it would be. The big difference about Sunday mornings is that they always included "bon bons". Bon bons referred to whatever sweet treat could be provided for breakfast after Mass - generally donuts, or a cake, or make some kind of coffee cake thingy.
    Saturday mornings were the times when my parents were off limits to us. We would wake up early and disappear into the great outdoors. I now think that, as special and freeing as that time was to the kids, it was even more special for the 'rents.

    1. I was trying to think of what my kids would think of as family rituals. They would probably revolve more around holidays than a routine weekend thing. Interesting, I might have to ask them that question.
      I like that you refer to your mother and father as the ‘rents.

  2. Wow, that was like an episode from The Waltons! Farming the kids out after the fire and all...LOL I'm so glad yours was mostly smoke damage and not much worse. All I can think of now is bread dipped in the sauce- gravy- and I WANT SOME! :)

    1. I know, when I was writing this I wanted to stop and make some gravy, just so I could dip.
      Yeah, we were very lucky that no one was hurt in that fire. That’s funny, we were hardly the Waltons. :)

  3. I absolutely love the reference to pasta sauce as gravy. Having grown and canned my own tomatoes, annually, since 1974, I have become a self-appointed expert on tomato sauce...puree...catsup...anything to do with tomatoes. Loved this post!

    1. Wow, I bet those home grown tomatoes make very delicious sauces of any kind.

  4. Oh the family rituals. The one I remember most vividly was going to my grandparents' house on Saturday mornings for eggs, bacon, and toast (of which my grandma made the best omelettes - which I cannot replicate and no matter what, I don't really like anymore) and on Sunday mornings, usually after church, for pancakes and sausage. I know she used Bisquick mix for her batter but she did....something....because the pancakes always came out really thin but they were fabulous. I think she added more wet ingredients (milk, eggs, vanilla, or something). I have tried and tried to replicate it but I never get it right. At least I got her vanilla custard pie recipe out of her before she forgot how to do it.

    1. Bisquick mix does make pretty good pancakes and waffles too.

  5. That was some serious meatball dedication. :) I love these sorts of rituals but, like you said, I'm not sure what everyday ones I've managed to establish for my kids. We've got some holiday ones, but just not the everyday stuff. I think it was harder to make those sorts of rituals when both parents were working full-time. But maybe I'm just lazy. :)