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Family heirlooms: A Spring Hill grandmother shares her unwritten recipes

SPRING HILL — How do you replicate Grandma's recipes — particularly her specialty Italian holiday meals — when she's never written them down?

Well, you can fly in from California and New Jersey at Easter time and cook by her side.

That's what Randi Lund, 27, from San Francisco, and Richele Lund, 29, from Woodbridge, N.J., did as Grandma Lee Lund, 86, spooned, seasoned, rubbed, chopped, browned and simmered traditional recipes in her Timber Pines kitchen. Many hands played a part, including Lee and Paul Lund's son, Richard, and his wife, Rose.

Lee's own grandmother in Italy handed her culinary skills to her daughter, Lee's mother, Giovanni Dilleo Cerretti, who brought the recipes in her head when she emigrated to America in the late 1800s.

On Friday and Saturday, Lee shared her experience at the chopping block and stove top with the youngest generation of the family.

Stepping through the door, one couldn't help but salivate over the fragrances of simmering garlic, onions, beef, parsley, basil, oregano and the tang of freshly grated Parmesan.

Richele took notes. For the red sauce, saute chopped onions till translucent, she explained, then open four 24-ounce cans of whole tomatoes. "Diced tomatoes somehow doesn't make a nice sauce."

"Too watery?" asked daughter-in-law Rose. Lee nodded.

Lee aligned on the countertop jars of dried basil, oregano and Italian seasoning. She would have preferred fresh basil. "You never get the smell with the dried as with the fresh," she pronounced.

"How much?" inquired Richele, pen poised.

"Oh, just pour it in."

"Gram!" Richele implored.

"Well, a teaspoon of each. A pinch is a half-teaspoon."

Interjected Richard: "That's a big pinch."

As the sauce simmered, Lee directed Randi to ready the meatballs for the braciole: a pound each of ground chuck and ground sirloin, salt, pepper, two cloves of crushed garlic, two eggs, about a cup of stale Italian bread, crusts removed, soaked in water ("No preservatives in the bread," Lee pointed out, "lighter than bread crumbs") — also fresh chopped flat-leaf parsley, "about a handful," Parmesan grated from a chunk.

"How much cheese?" asked the scrivener.

"Just until it looks right," Lee replied.

Granddaughters rolled their eyes.

Lee relented, slightly.

"You taste it and add."

"Ugh!" Richele and Randi said in chorus. "Eat it raw?"

Meanwhile, Rose stirred the sauce. Lee directed another 24-ounce can of tomatoes to be added. More meat was to come.

Two pounds of mild Italian sausage with fennel were cut into chunks and delivered to a hot oven to extract their fat. They were destined for the sauce pot.

Then, Lee brought a hefty flank steak from the refrigerator. It had not been sliced thin, as she had wanted, by the butcher. She pounded it with her fist until Richard came to her aid and sliced it lengthwise into manageable portions. Lee rubbed it with a bit of Crisco — more cries from the healthy-eating granddaughters — poured on salt and pepper, and sprinkled on Parmesan cheese, fresh parsley and pressed garlic.

"I've been chopping garlic all day," Randi moaned.

"It makes it taste better," Grandma responded.

She tied the rolled-up flank steak in string and saut?ed it before adding it to the pot.

The cooks could have wiped off their hands and known they had readied a banquet.

But Richele wanted to demonstrate her favorite, Gram's stuffed artichokes. A full kettle of them was simmering on the stove. Richele and Lee demonstrated: Cut off the stem, slam the artichoke top down on the counter to loosen its leaves, pry apart, sprinkle with salt and lots of pepper, stuff with Italian seasoned bread crumbs, ladle in Parmesan cheese and drizzle with olive oil. Press the leaves back together and boil for about two hours.

On the menu to come: braccala salad, traditionally concocted from reconstituted dried cod fish, vinegar, red and green bell peppers, black olives, anchovies, garlic, olive oil and lemons. Lee noted that dried cod is only available from Italian grocers at Christmas time. She soaks it a week, changing the water every day, finally removing the skin and bones, simmering the meat to a nice white.

"I don't think I'd make that," the granddaughters said, "too much work."

But for Easter weekend, Lee bought frozen cod. "Most of the work's done," she pointed out.

The young women liked that.

Lee Lund remembers cooking her first family meal at age 10 — pasta fagiol.

She's been treating her husband to traditional family meals for 61 years, but his favorites remain American hamburgers and meatloaf. Of course, Lee's meatloaf isn't the bland entree you'd buy at the grocery store or take-out.

Randi and Richele remember eating their grandmother's tasty meals as children, and they want to keep the unwritten recipes in the family for future generations. Thus the journey to Florida this weekend.

As Richard said of his mother's recipes and cooking: "Part of the taste is the love and care you put into it."

Beth Gray can be contacted at

Family heirlooms: A Spring Hill grandmother shares her unwritten recipes 03/23/08 [Last modified: Sunday, March 23, 2008 9:53pm]
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