For six years we have been running the family restaurant in my husband's seaside town, surviving the economic crisis, volcanic activities and local competition... Friends back in Ireland think we have the life of Riley, but the grass isn't always greener...
Every good cook book has a story behind
it, and this one is no exception...
Sicilia in Bocca by Antonio Cardella, received as a wedding gift
from savvy Tuscan friends years back. It’s printed on yellow-tinged paper with
a rustic feel to it, like the placemats you get in trattorias. The
illustrations are witty, the prose has socio-political undercurrents (the
author prefaces the Starters section with a caveat: Don’t get the idea that
Sicilians are used to anti-pasti; not so long ago hunger was the norm. “It is not
easy to change a state of forced abstinence into one of cheerful guzzling.”) And
the recipes are in dialect, Italian and English – with creative translating from
the original and a good dose of Sicilian wisdom and proverbs. I need to consult
all three version to make sure I’m following the recipe correctly J
I went to my libraio di fiducia, my
favourite bookseller, Filoramo, and asked him if he had a copy. I wanted to
give it to an American friend who is getting married.
“Ah,” said Filoramo. “A fabulous book. Sadly
it’s no longer in print.”
And why not?
The publisher did a low print
run at first, thinking only a few copies would be sold - to the more discerning
tourist. But Filoramo called the publisher after a few days:
“I’m all out of
that book. Give me 50 more.”
“I only have 20 copies.”
“Well, bring them here!”
It sold out so fast that soon the publisher was making regular trips to Milazzo
and Taormina with his carload of recipes. And then, as can happen when money
enters the equation, the thing went sour. Someone tried to cash in on the
success, with another book called Isole in Bocca; they were sued for copyright
infringement, and the result of the legal fallout was that Sicilia in Bocca could be printed no more.
“The greatest shame,” said Filoramo, with
heartfelt lament, “is that I didn’t keep a copy for myself. So treasure yours.”
Humble aspirations: "We offer you firstrate, authentic Sicilian cuisine, borne out of fantasy and popular imagination.
Cardella suggests that every recipe, being
a creative act, is inherently incommunicable – pretty much in line with my
mother-in-law’s culinary gems. “Oh I just throw in a handful of this, a pinch
of that”. Everything is “a occhio” –
an expression that means a rough estimate, but in terms of cooking connotes
instinct and how you’re feeling that day.
Of course, it is so much more than a mere
recipe book. The author takes us on a reconnoitering stroll across Sicily: through
mountain towns of Saracen origin such as Geraci Siculo (“… [whose] inhabitants,
very affable to visitors, live the life of a little mountain village”) to fish
markets, where “[F]oreigners are always cheerfully amazed at the crafty and
noisy expedients used by fishmongers in order to compel the hesitant purchaser
to buy something”.
Recipes are pitched with hearty reverence,
from “Agghiotta di pesce spada”, a Messina speciality, to Pasta with sardines,
and wild fennel: “[T]o find it, it is necessary to go to Sicily as it does not
exist anywhere else”. Everyone who has contributed to making Sicily what it is
gets a mention, including musicians, writers, artists and demagogues – and not
forgetting legendary shapers of Sicily such as Aeolus and the Cyclops. Cardella
honours centuries old traditions and gives us his take on Sicilian history: and
this is the book’s passionate achievement.