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There was always a distinct difference in attitudes about cooking and the kitchen from my mother's side of the family and my father's. My mother and her mother saw cooking as a chore or an obligation to your children and spouse. By no means a reflection on thier love or nurturing, they were a product of mid-century canned food, prepackaged meals, and feminism – what was cooked for family meals boiled down to efficiancy and affordability. The less time spent in the kitchen the better. My father's side of the family couldn't be more different. Whether it was the love of cooking, tradition, or the necessity of feeding large groups of people, meals took forethought and often hours if not days to prepare.
~Stephanie Foti

Every Christmas Eve and New Years Eve, among all of the traditional foods, there would be a plate of samosas and if I was lucky, I got to take part in their making. Not a typical Italian-American offering, this was always the product of my aunt who spent a year in Uganda living with a family from India. The magic for me in these was not in the taste or comfort they gave, but in the idea that this recipe had traveled across the world to become part of our family tradition. Someone's grandmother, mother, or aunt in India, taught this recipe to their granddaughter, daughter, or niece in Uganda, who then taught it to my Aunt who brought it home and taught the recipe to all of her nieces.
~Stephanie Foti

My grandmother was my favorite relative in my childhood upbringing because she always accompanied me. When I was a child, my mother always sent me to my grandmother's house if she wasn’t available to take care of me. In my memory, I was so happy to spend time with my grandmother because not only did she cook the good cuisine, but also she could tell countless nursery tales. My grandmother is really quite talent; her stories could easily attract me, more than often even the neighbor kids all coming to listen to.

One day when I just arrived home from my junior high school, my mother announced that my grandmother passed away. Mom told me that the death of my grandmother was caused by heart attack. That day because grandma spent more time in chatting with her friends which she hadn’t seen for a while. So, she was late for preparing her lunch for the family. When she arrived home, she cooked the meal rush. After finishing the lunch, she went to her bedroom and took a nap to relieve her anxiety. During the dinner hour, my grandmother still didn’t show up in the kitchen so her family knocked her door. No one answered. While opening the door, they found my grandmother had passed away in her dream.

I was very sad to hear this unexpected news.

My grandmother wasn’t just a story genius to me. She was a family key person in term of all the housework. Usually, she was responsible for housework and preparing meals daily. In our old culture, our previous generation women of virtue requires women take care of the entire household when men are responsible for making money. Especially, people believe a wife who is a master cook in the kitchen would make the husband happy. Therefore, owning cooking skills is more important to a traditional Chinese society.
~Eileen Chen

I call my family the “Ultimate Gumbo”. “Gumbo is often used as a metaphor for the mix of cultures that exist in southern Louisiana. Gumbo was born in the New World and took cues from the old, but adapted to the new". The dish combines the culinary practices of native tribes, African slaves, and settlers. The people from these cultures lived together within a fairly small geography with minimal mobility. This fostered an environment where cultures could influence each other and meld to create new traditions and cuisine.

According to historian Gwendolyn Midlo Hall, residents of 18th century Louisiana "participated in an acculturation process that was a mutual exchange of knowledge, perceptions, and techniques – an exchange in which Africans, as well as Indians, were often more influential than whites". Gumbo combines ingredients and culinary practices of the French, Spanish, German, West African, and Choctaw Indians. This dish is based on traditional West African and Native dishes, or may be a derivation of the French dish bouillabaisse.
~Dinah de Spenza

My mother has inherited the talent of cook from my grandmother, and she is very successful and skillful in the kitchen. I lived in a family of four; however, my mother always prepared the dishes that were enough for eight people to feast on. I remember that my mother often invited our next-door neighbors to enjoy her cooking. Sharing the food and the recipes is the best social life for those wives staying home in the old times.

My father mentioned that one of the reasons he loves my mother was because her cooking talent makes him could not be away from her for one single day.

Cooking the delicious food for the family is the best way to maintain the good relationship to family happiness and prosperity of the family. Corresponding to the Chinese culture, the protection of Kitchen God's role is especially important. Our families are blessed by a variety of gods, counting the Kitchen God, who gives women protection for their families. China's ancient culture believes that the kitchen god not only can bless good food in the family, also takes care of the family's finance and family health. Each successful or happy family feels that the Kitchen God always focuses on them. In order to contribute to the protection of Kitchen God, every year during Chinese New Year, the families will make different flavors candy and sweets to worship him.
~Eileen Chen

The granddaughters did all the prep work consisting of chopping and cleaning of vegetables and meats. Shelling all types of peas prepared for the other dishes often left my fingers hurting. My Grandmother was a great cook and the family Matriarch, she was also Mistress of the Kitchen, and we were her soldiers/hand maidens carrying out the orders and instructions. She thought the best way to really learn to cook was by observing the master cook during the entire experience. So we prepped and observed while sipping Coca Cola.

Sometimes this experience involved other female family members as well as extended family members and neighbors peeling shrimp, shucking oysters and cleaning and boiling fresh live crabs. The other adult females entering this “ultimate gumbo experience” were her 1st and 2nd Lieutenants who drank scotch and beer while sharing their latest stories, secrets, other peewee drama and the best ways to prepare the roux – the flour base mixture which thickens the gumbo.
~Dinah de Spenza

The kitchen door was always open. It was the place where many important decisions were made. From discussing college education, to getting your “hair did”, to makeup, the wedding plans, divorces, homework, and gossip. I got my ears pierced in the kitchen with a hot sewing needle surrounded by the women while the gumbo was being cooked. I was a four week old infant. It was my initiation to the Gumbo Ya Ya!. Everything happened while cooking the GUMBO. The experience itself is what I call the ULTIMATE GUMBO and the secret is always in the “ROUX”.
~Dinah de Spenza

However since I grew up, our culture has undergone tremendous change. Women are no longer like my grandmother and mother – they don’t need to contribute all of their life to the hot stove in the kitchen. Nowadays, women can receive higher education and work in the different industries and career fields as men do; women are moving towards greater independence.

Until a decade ago I still lived in Taiwan, I seldom cooked, but I could taste different food every day. At the time, food and beverage industries are already thrived. I have never learned the cooking skills from my grandmother and mother's well dishes. As the family and the entire social lifestyle changes, people’s trust and attachment to the Kitchen God began to loosen.
~Eileen Chen

"Do not repeat what you just heard!" This loud whisper was often heard in the kitchen. The youngest of the grandchildren in the family, it was easy to get forgotten about in a room of large bodies. Bustling with women, during family gatherings, the space seemed to invite candidness and a camaraderie that did not exist in other parts of the house. Even among family members who didn't get along, secrets about husbands, neighbors, and children were often confided over countertops, alliances were made, and hurts were mended.
~Stephanie Foti

More than a decade ago, I moved to California together with my husband. Three years after we had our daughter, the lovely gift from God. With a three-person family and one income from my husband, we started adjusting our budget by reducing the amount of time and money to visit restaurants. However cooking at home is different kind of enjoyment, it brings us closer relationships and love. We have often studied cooking books together. My husband starts cooking his best cooking for the pleasure of the whole family. I never cooked when I was a single, and I used to swear I never wanted to become my grandmother and mother – cooking at home as a housewife. Because the family life style has been changed, I started to pickup my memory, trying to cook my most favorite food as my grandmother and mother always cooked for me.
~Eileen Chen

New Orleans, Louisiana is my birthplace. In Italian deSpenza , my last name, means "pantry for storing beautiful foods". I am fascinated by the origins of cultures and customs, primarily how women in my family in New Orleans come together around the table, over the hot stove in the kitchen or dining room table with foods creating an interactive gumbo culture.

My father’s side of the family is Italian Creole, however, all of my early most formative experiences in the kitchen are with my French (speaking) Creole Grandmother Olivia Michelle on my mother’s side. I was chopping onions, garlic, and bell peppers, and hot peppers before I learned to talk. All the granddaughters (for sure) and grandsons participated in this ritual no matter what the age. I remember peeling garlic while in the high chair. My eyes watered and burned from the onions. I could never remember not to rub my eyes. I loved it and hated it at the same time. Loved participating in the ritual and hated the burning eyes, even though subconsciously I even loved the burning eyes because it made me feel like I was part of the Gumbo Experience.
~Dinah de Spenza

The earliest memory I can recall of my grandmother is one of her standing over the stove stirring spaghetti sauce. At this time she was already an old woman; her fragile hands stirring away with the wooden spoon, her tiny frame hunched over the large pot. In my child's mind, I didn't understand that by this time in her life she was beyond the point of cooking for the entire family. What I did understand was that the family kitchen, no matter who was working in it, had a strict hierarchy and my grandmother was the queen.

She was raised in Tortorici, Sicily in a family of hazelnut farmers and moved to New York at age 15, in 1927. Having left at what we would now consider such a young age, I always wondered how many of the habits and traditions she passed down to her children and grandchildren, were things she learned from her mother. Or, were these traditions she adopted after arriving in the country?
~Stephanie Foti