As a child, I was an obnoxiously picky eater. Not just picky in that I didn’t like vegetables or foods to touch but picky in a I-won’t-eat-cheese-unless-it’s-white-American way.
Among the things I didn’t like was anything other than butter and salt on pasta. This may not seem like a big deal, but you see, my family wasn’t Ragu or Prego users, no, our sauce came from our own kitchen, out of plastic containers rather than glass jars. Several times a year, my dad would make giant batches of red sauce that we would put into tupperware, store, and defrost every Thursday night (which was “spaghetti night” for the entirety of my childhood).
Making sauce was an all day affair. It would begin with chopping zucchini, yellow squash, onion, bell peppers, and mushrooms. Then would come the ground beef browned in huge skillets. The grease left in the pan would be set aside and poured over our dog’s dry food. “It’s good for her coat,” my father would say as he rolled up his flannel sleeves. This was probably true, but he also loves an opportunity to spoil our pets.
The veggies and tomato base would be combined in two huge pots, one with meat and one without. And there they would sit for the better portion of the day. My father would keep an eye on them: stirring occasionally, adjusting the heat, watching them the same way he would watch me and my brother, not over our shoulder at every moment, but also never letting us out of his sight. I learned from an early age that there was a technique to stirring, you never wanted to scrape the very bottom, where it would inevitably burn, because doing so would mix all of the burnt pieces into the unburnt sauce above.
The event would finally come to a close around twelve hours after its start with the kitchen counter covered in open tupperware containers filled with sauce waiting to cool and be frozen. Despite my excitement to be a part of the process, I never wanted to taste the finished product.
“But, Jessica, you eat pizza,” my parents and brother would remind me when I insisted I didn’t like tomato sauce. When I finally came around, instead of putting it on pasta, I ate the sauce with a spoon.
It’s important to note that my family is not Italian. My dad doesn’t do this to pay homage to his mother country. When I asked why he makes the sauce, since he also does it for church dinners and occasionally local shelters, my dad simply said that his father always did, and so we continue the tradition. Regardless of why we do it, it has become something that I associate with my father and with being home.
At the end of last summer—literally three days before I returned to Goucher—I found myself beside my father in our kitchen, chopping veggies to make a small batch for me to bring back to school. I had to leave halfway through to go to work, but when I came home, there was a small army of plastic containers, ready to get me through a tough semester.
At the end of a hard day, I know that I can have a little taste of home, mixed with potatoes, chicken, cheese, pasta, spaghetti squash—or simply a spoon. I take a bite and I am at my kitchen counter on a Thursday night. I smile and can almost feel my daddy wrapping me in a flannel-coated hug.