As Americans, many of us have unique links to our ancestry, some are clear cut and some are fuzzy. Growing up, it was made very clear to me that I am a part of an Italian American family. My grandmother, who is Sicilian, keeps the culture alive for the family. Her baking is the outlet she uses to remember and share her ancestry. Her baking is known within our family and her surrounding community.
I am by no means a professional baker or even a top tier at home baker…let’s put it this way–I don’t weigh my ingredients. Although I am not vying for a spot on the Great British Baking Show, my love for baking is strong and my passion comes from my Italian roots. Therefore, I figured why not start my journey by baking my way through hand-picked recipes from a classic Italian recipe book my grandmother used to use? PSA: I won’t be using any of Mom-Mom’s recipes because they are a family secret :).
I will be using my grandmother’s 1958 copy of The Talisman Italian Cookbook by Ada Boni, translated by Matilda Pei (Pei grew up in Rome and moved to the United States when she was 18. During her time in the U.S., Matilda Pei worked for the Censorship Bureau. In the foreword of the book, Pei discusses Boni’s success.
Ada Boni did not start out as a cookbook writer, rather she was an editor of Preziosa, which was Italy’s then leading women’s magazine. In 1928, Boni tied on her apron and wrote a cookbook bringing together thousands of different Italian recipes to create Talismano della Felicità. Her cookbook became recognized in Italy as the standard national cookbook.
The version I am using is a synthesized version of her original 600 page book that recorded over 2,000 recipes.
Ada Boni’s book was welcoming by Italians and those interested in Italian food. This interest is born from history. Italy is a country of regions. Not only does each region have it own food staples, Italy, throughout history was taken over and settled many times by other countries. Consequently, Italy is filled with a wide range of foods. Because Boni’s cookbook is filled with recipes from all regions is one of the first unifying acts–in relation to food–for Italy. Unification of food is important for Italy because food is a prominent part of the Italian cultural identity.
The Talisman Italian Cookbook includes cooking and baking, but I will be working solely out of the desserts section. I am choosing a handful of recipes that I have never made before. This will definitely be an adventure. These are not easy recipes and they are definitely not “normal” for an average baker…..in other words, get ready to read about and watch some funny fails or some ecstatic successes.
There are a few rules I will be following
- I cannot ask my grandmother for advice before or during baking
- I have to use as accurate ingredients as possible
- I cannot look up photos for what it is supposed to look like before baking
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If you have any advice or some fun stories about baking Italian desserts, comment below 🙂