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Wisdom from Clara's Kitchen: Book Review
Wisdom from a Great Depression Cook
Clara Cannuncciari is an unlikely celebrity chef. The 94-year old great-grandmother, however, has penned a wonderful memoir/cookbook called "Clara's Kitchen" (with the help of her grandson, Christopher Cannuncciari) providing not just classic and simple Sicilian recipes, but her memories and tips for surviving and thriving during tough economic times. And Clara should know; she was a teenager during the worst of the Great Depression. When her father was out of work for six years, Clara was forced to quit high school during her sophomore year. She walked five miles to a factory job, work all day, and walk five miles back home - stopping at an empty lot along the way to fill a sack with wild dandelions, burdock and mushrooms, sometimes the only food her family had.
This is a wonderful book. I'll start right off the bat saying that it's a quick read, and if you're looking for a cookbook you'll be disappointed. But it's not meant to replace your Betty Crocker cookbook. Instead, it's as if you're pulling up a chair to the formica kitchen table in Clara's home and listening to her tell stories while she whips up a batch of bread or cooks potatoes and eggs for you.
So pour yourself a cup of tea, pull back your chair, and listen to these words of wisdom from everyone's great grandma - and celebrity chef Clara Cannucciari.
We Never Asked for Anything
"We never asked for anything and we never knew we lacked anything...because we had no idea what was out there."
Whew! Don't you wish your kids "didn't know what was out there?" When Clara was a girl, she had one doll - which she was not allowed to play with because it was too fancy. She had no toys but what she made for herself. She gives instructions in the book for making paper dolls. She borrowed roller skates from her cousin and patched them together with twine. Would your children do the same?
The Depression, Clara relates, and her financial poverty made her clever, resourceful, and careful. She never asked her parents for fancy toys or games because she had no idea they existed.
From Clara's tales, it becomes abundantly clear that Clara had everything growing up because she had a loving family. She had her parents, she had her brother, she had many cousins and a safe neighborhood to play in. She had strict teachers who instilled in her discipline and a love of learning. And because no one gave her material goods like fancy toys, she learned to use her imagination to create her own games and toys.
We can all learn from Clara!
Healthy and Strong
Clara is 94, and proudly admits that at age 88 she moved her own refrigerator - by herself! She has all her own teeth. "We were bony but strong," she says, speaking about her childhood during the depression.
Because meat was so expensive, the family ate meat only once a week. Their typical meals were potatoes and vegetables, eggs and vegetables, or pasta and vegetables. Her mother made homemade bread. They grew a garden. What they did not eat they canned or preserved. They didn't even have a refrigerator - she remembers her mother saying things like "Clara, would you get the leftovers from last night? They're buried in the snow near the fence." That's right - the family would bury leftovers in snow to keep them cold! Thank goodness they lived in Chicago.
Looking through the recipes in the book, one is struck by how nutritious they are. Most meals are based on greens: spinach, escarole, Chard. Now we know that greens are some of the very best vegetables of all, filled with vitamins, minerals and antioxidants. They cooked everything in a bit of olive oil and drank homemade grape wine with meals. And because Clara walked everywhere and was an admitted tomboy, tucking her dresses up into her bloomers so she could play baseball with the boys, she got plenty of exercise.
Her diet lacked the sugar, white flour and refined foods so typical of today, and she got plenty of aerobic and strength training exercise. Clara sprinkles tips liberally throughout the book for healthy living. "Clean your kitchen floor by hand; scrubbing is good exercise" "Why go to a gym when there's a house to clean? You can get plenty of exercise at home." "Walk to the grocery store - you'll buy less because you can only carry so much."
At age 94, Clara is mentally vigorous, physically strong, and healthy in every way. We should all be so lucky! Eating less - and doing without what most of us eat every day, such as sugar and meat, seems to have made her strong and healthy. And normal, every day activities such as walking, cleaning and scrubbing got her "into shape" as much as any gym would.
A Great Book
I enjoy personal essays and write many myself. I also had parents who came of age during the Great Depression, and I greatly admire the "greatest generation." Clara exemplifies all that is wonderful about this generation. There's no whining, no looking to the government for handouts. You made do, or you did without. She credits the Depression and her childhood and upbringing with making her who she is today. We're all molded by our upbringing to be sure, but it seems as if this generation is tougher than ours, able to withstand more.
The recipes provide simple fare for frugal cooking. If you're looking for tips to save money, Clara gives them - but they may not be what you are looking for. For example, Clara describes the many card and dice games played during the Depression. For today's video game obsessed culture, that may not be of interest - although it certainly provides an inexpensive yet fun way to while away an evening.
Clara's book is a fun evening's read, filled with wisdom from a generation much admired. I hope you enjoy her book as much as I did.
- Great Depression Cooking with Clara
Clara is a 94 year old cook and Great Grandmother. She is 100% Sicilian-American and grew up in a Chicago suburb, Melrose Park. She survived the Great Depression and claims to have actually gained weight during America's worst state of financial desp