Traditions Gone by the Wayside

This is the time of year when I get cravings for weird things. It might be because it’s Lent and I give up a lot of indulgent foods, or it might be because of the time of year it is. For example, St. Patrick’s Day is coming up, and that means Shamrock Shakes. Usually those coincided with Lent, so unless they were released before Lent started (like this year), we’d need to not have given up sweets for Lent or freeze them until after Easter. When I moved to Arkansas, I was horrified to learn that they had never heard of Shamrock Shakes. Last year, McDonald’s had a new release here… Shamrock Shakes! However, they were “test marketing” them in limited quantities, so they were virtually impossible to come by. Finally, this year, the stars aligned. McDonald’s released Shamrock Shakes in mass quantities before Lent in Arkansas. One craving averted.

sausageThere are some cravings, though, that I’ll never get to satisfy again. Right after Christmas when I was young, my whole family would gather in my grandparents’ basement to make sausage and sopresatta. It was hard work—it took the whole day—and took a lot of preparation before that, but boy was it worth it. (Squeamish readers may want to skip ahead.)

Sheep intestine had to be soaked in ice water and citrus for days to be cleaned and deodorized. Pork shoulder had to be ground, and we didn’t have a motorized crank; it was all done by hand. Pounds and pounds were fed through the feed tube, and once coarsely ground, became the basis for the sausage and sopresatta mixtures. Seasonings were stirred into the meat by hand, requiring the men to dig into big bowls up to their elbows. Peppers were added to the sopresatta mix. Finally the mixtures were pushed back into the extruder and into the intestine casing.

The sausage was hung in my grandparents’ fruit cellar—the coldest place in the house, or cooked right away for us to eat with homemade bread and, if we were lucky, a sip of wine. The sopresatta had to be pressed until it cured completely. It took six to eight weeks to dry out. This is the time of year we’d be eating the homemade salami, and at this time every year, I get a craving for it. The stuff you buy in the stores just isn’t the same, and frankly, living in Arkansas, any kind of Italian food is hard to come by, let alone the stuff prepared the way we’re used to.

The hardest part for me, though, is saying goodbye to the memories. I was too young to actually be a part of the sausage-making process, but I remember sitting on the stool in the basement, watching my grandparents, my parents, my aunt, uncle and cousins work. I remember playing with my young cousins while the adults toiled. My grandmother only had a two-bedroom home, so the house was tiny, and filling it with that many people trying to accomplish a difficult task with a bunch of kids underfoot should have brought conflict and strife, but it didn’t. There was laughter and love and fun. Sometimes there was music, but more often than not when the music ended, people were so busy goofing around that they forgot to turn it back on. At the end of the day, the sausage and sopresatta was made for the year, but the memories were made for a lifetime.

My grandfather is gone now. My parents and aunt and uncle no longer make the sausage—it’s too much work for them. My siblings and my cousins didn’t carry the tradition on. We’ve all drifted apart—me farthest of all, nearly one thousand miles—and simply didn’t manage to keep the tradition alive. Even if we managed to start it up again, it just wouldn’t be the same without my grandfather managing the process. My husband and I tried to make some sausage a few years ago, but it just wasn’t right. Times change and traditions fall by the wayside.

So this year, I finally got my Shamrock Shake, but I won’t be having any sopresatta. At least, not any of my grandfather’s homemade sopresatta. Some traditions just can’t be replicated. We should try to enjoy what time we have with our families while we have them. You never know when those times will be nothing but treasured memories.

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17 Comments Add yours

  1. anmadaca says:

    Well written, and I share your sentiment. There are many people and traditions I miss these days.

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    1. Staci Troilo says:

      Thank you. Things just aren’t the same anymore, are they? When my grandma used to say, “Ah, the good old days,” I used to just smile and nod and wonder why she’d want to go back when all the great advances were ahead of us. Now I know, and I find myself uttering the same sentiment.

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      1. I am feeling the nostalgia of yesteryear too. My husband’s new job allowed us to move back to our hometown and be with our family. I was excited to host our family Easter dinner and learned that my brother and his family would not be joining us. This made me realize just how much things have changed. I remember sitting at the “kid table” with my siblings and my cousins hoping to make it one day to the “adult table”. I have many wonderful memories, but I feel that my children are missing out, because our family is geographically spread out and my brother and his family started a different tradition when I moved away. With the fast pace of life today, and social media, traditions seem to be falling by the wayside. I can only hope that my children will carryon the traditions that I have tried to instill in them and put family first.

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    2. Staci Troilo says:

      I’m sorry to hear that your holiday plans won’t be what you expected, Michele. Maybe you can start a new tradition on a different day that everyone can be a part of… one that your family and your brother’s family can be a part of and can carry on for generations to come. Otherwise, I agree, you’ll just have to hope that you can pass the torch to your children one day.

      I’m far from my extended family and will not be able to go home for Easter. We keep telling our kids this is home, but it’s hard to enforce that message when we don’t call it home ourselves. I also looked forward to moving from the kid table to the adult table, and now that I earned that right, I’m not even “home” to take advantage of it. Take heart in the fact that you aren’t the only person dealing with changing traditions, but the advent of technology makes the world smaller… with the phone or the computer you can just reach out to those distant loved ones and still share your special days.

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  2. Staci, After living on Staten Island amid a ton of Italian relatives who embraced us, I could actually smell the aunts dinner preparations in reading your post. I too miss the genuine Italian cooking, though I brought home enough recipes to sustain us when we get the urge to “visit our Italian friends” kitchens once again. Today we celebrated my hubby’s 79th birthday with authentic Italian meat sauce and spaghetti. You’ll laugh at this, but one of his favorite deserts is Mexican and so I made apple empanadas. I’m not sure how to spell that. Thanks for this visit into your memories. I so enjoyed it.

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    1. Staci Troilo says:

      I hope he had a wonderful birthday. It sounds like you had quite a party. (After all, empanadas are really just fried dessert ravioli, right?) In all seriousness, it’s great that you have those recipes and even better that you can share those family traditions. Thanks for sharing a part of your life here with us.

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      1. You’re right, I never thought of empanadas that way. Stay warm.

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  3. P. C. Zick says:

    Nice post, Staci. I like hearing about the traditions of my new home as well. You’re now making those traditions for your kids. It’s a different world now. While we’ve made so many things easier in our lives, some things are more difficult. Your memories of childhood need to be pulled together into one lovely book.

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    1. Staci Troilo says:

      That’s not a bad idea. I’ve often thought about it, especially since my grandmother is still with us to enjoy it and contribute to it, but somehow I never find the time. (Excuses, excuses, right?) Still, it seems memoirs are quite popular now, and, whether they are or not, creating one for my family would be something they would treasure for generations to come. Perhaps that’s something we should all consider…

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      1. P. C. Zick says:

        Since most of my older relatives have passed, I highly recommend getting down the stories of those who remain and can remember. There are many options for publishing a book these days, which is wonderful because you can do it for very little outlay of cash. I recommend starting by compiling your blog posts on this subject into one document and then adding as the spirit moves you.

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    2. Staci Troilo says:

      I hope to get home at some point this year. I’d love to sit down with my grandmother (you read about her in an earlier post) and a recorder and just let her talk. An alternative is to just keep calling her and getting her thoughts down. But you’re right; I really should start cataloging these memories before they’re lost. I think my gramma remembers more than I do at this point!

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  4. Staci,
    A wonderful stroll, thanks for taking us along. It took me 20 minutes to read your post, I kept interrupting myself with similar memories. The sausage and hams hanging and slowly curing, stewing and canning the bounty of the garden, the homemade limoncello and especially the unspoken lesson that hard work offers rewards.

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    1. Staci Troilo says:

      I’m glad you enjoyed my trip down memory lane, and that you got a chance to relive some of your own memories. We also had a huge garden, and working in it and eating from it were also some of my fondest memories of childhood. But you’re right, the most important lesson is that hard work offers rewards.

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  5. I also miss many of our family traditions. We used to visit our grandparents every Sunday and sit outside (weather permitting) or in the house and talk about the “good ol’ days”. Grandma alway baked something and served everyone (adults got coffee, kids Lemon Blend) and we ate and laughed. Grandpap would drive over every morning and visit mom and talk for a while and made his rounds before going home to have lunch. Then he was back out visiting us after school There is something to be said for spending time with family. You never know just when those days will end.

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    1. Staci Troilo says:

      I miss Lemon Blend! I miss a lot of things from Western PA.

      I think the thing that’s hardest for me about being so far from home is that my kids don’t know what it’s like to have family dropping in everyday. Yes, holidays are wonderful, but the things my husband and I tell our kids about most often are the little things, the daily things, like dropping in on my grandmother on the way home from a walk downtown or funny things my grandfather would do or say when I saw him everyday after school. Those are memories that my kids will never have because we don’t live near family, and even if we make it home for holidays or reunions, we can’t capture those traditions. Times are certainly changing. I wonder what we’ll reminisce about with my kids’ children.

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  6. frog5 says:

    Nice nostalgia excursion, Staci. My family used to make ice cream at my grandmothers house in Batesville, Arkansas. The churn was filled with ice and salt and cranking it was easy at the start. But as the cream mixture froze, turning the crank got harder and harder. Then the cry went up, are we there yet?

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    1. Staci Troilo says:

      I hear you, Frog5. Those hand-turned cranks seem to turn forever, but the end result is always worth it. My husband and I have automated machines for all that stuff now (pasta making, meat extruding, ice cream churning), and while the work is easier, I’m not sure it’s as fun as it was when we were young. Of course, we’ve lost some loved ones along the way, and we’re the responsible party now, so that might have something to do with it. Thanks for sharing your ice cream story!

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