Summer at my parents, photo by C. Shere
I love visiting my parents. Their house, which sits just below the top of a hill in Sonoma County, is small by today's standards, and just right by mine. Wherever you look, you find something to think about: an old family photo, a painting, a book, a jar of jam. The windows frame ever-changing snaphots: The old barn I looked at ten years ago is now a stack of wood; hills that are soft green this month will turn brown by summer; a quail family scratching for seed won't be there next time I look.
And then there's Mom and Dad's pantry. It might just be my favorite room in their house. I meant to take a picture while I was there last week, but forgot. Luckily, my father wrote a blogpost about his pantry a few months back, complete with photo.
For me, their pantry is about as evocative as the wall of family photos outside its entrance. One pantry wall is covered with many of Mom and Dad's pots: the blue Le Creuset pans with singed wooded handles that heat the morning milk, the omelet pans my father cooked eggs in when I was a girl. There's the same old bread basket we had, the chipped tin cups my siblings and I used for milk, and perhaps even some of the same jars of jam.
I'm always tempted in there, wondering if there's a way to break off a piece of chocolate without being heard, or wishing I'd thought to carry a pocket knife so I could cut off a hunk of my mother's panforte. It's a clever room, with a sensor activating the light. Unfortunately, the light also shuts off automatically, so whenever I visit I get much of my exercise doing silent jumping jacks in the pantry, trying to reignite the lights without drawing attention to the fact that yes, Giovanna is still in the pantry.
As I said, there's much to look at in the rest of the house. The study is full of books begging to be taken down and read. But there's so much to read in the pantry! Labels on marmalades and liquors, some handwritten by friends and family (some no longer with us), others in foreign languages.
Drying apricots, photo by C. Shere
But you can't rely on the labels. That Lavazza can, for example, holds apricots, not coffee. I have a hard time not raiding that can, though this time I only pinched one (honest, Dad!). Dad dried them last summer, on a tray in his El Camino (previously my grandfather, Babbo's, El Camino). Occasionally you have to pick off stray bits of cheesecloth (it protected the drying apricots from bugs), but it's well worth the effort. Because those apricots hold all of last summer.
Their concentrated flavor is of summer sun and dust, sweetened by memories of long evenings. Because they're so chewy, I had plenty of time while eating that lone apricot to think about my father continuing in Babbo's footsteps, drying the fruit he grew or gathered, putting it up in coffee cans (Lavazza for Dad, Medaglia D'Oro or Folgers for Babbo), and stowing it away (in Dad's pantry, or Babbo's workshop).
And how I love sitting at their table. My father makes me a bowl of coffee each morning with his 50 year old Faema. Sturdy toast gets spread with Dad's orange marmalade, or my mother's Damson preserves, or--a favorite of mine--her pear and pineapple marmalade (with a few unapologetic maraschino cherries, cheery, and not at all ashamed to be in the jar). On Sunday mornings there are also soft-boiled eggs. Most evenings, a little dish of nuts comes out before dinner, with a glass of sherry, or, if it's Friday or Saturday, a martini.
The week I was there we ate simply: a pot of chili, hamburgers with homemade chili sauce, and a lentil stew. One night we walked down the hill to my sister's house, and ate in front of the fireplace: tuna grilled in front of us, roasted potatoes and fennel. Another day, my brother came to lunch, stopping to pick up focaccia and a linzer tart at Downtown Bakery. I am reminded of the lunches we picked up at Matteucci's when I was little and we came from the city to visit my grandparents down the road: packages of mortadella and salami, a loaf of bread. A quick lunch to satisfy, and give us all a chance to sit down, together again.
There's always something delicious to eat at Mom and Dad's, a good book to read, a view to admire, and a story to be told or heard. I can't wait for my next visit.