In some of my stories, I reveal my Mother’s memories of traditional food making practice, coupled with my memories of how she adapted the recipes in Mildura.
I document in generational proportions- her recipes and talents in images, eliciting a sense of place, poetically transformative and celebratory.
I have become an observer.
I watch, listen, absorb and adapt what I see to reflect and aspire towards living a life that brings an appreciation of food.
People who grow food are incredibly bright because they know how to give life.
In this act then there is intuition, innovation, connection to the seed that sprouts from the enabling earth.
I tell the story of the farmer, the one who toils so that others can reap.
Generosity has always been the farmer’s forte in the bearing of gifts from the soil.
The keeping of the goats in Natalie/Calabria was considered a male occupation, as was the milking and production of the ricotta and cheese.
According to memory, the goat herders spent the week at the mountainside- on a plot of craggy land, the bleating goats, roaming and eating morsels of grass amongst the rocky terrain. Enclosed in a makeshift timber fence, rested overnight while their keepers bunked down in a nearby shack.
The men returned home intermittently. It was not far from the village and the women would bring provisions and also fetch the hand made cheese, massaging the delicacy, with salt and brine until it was ready to eat, day in day out carving a path between their domains.
War tripped gendered occupations, and migration policy impacted on those with ambition, the aspiration and the desire to seek with the affirmed decision, as paths opened to destiny. A necessity of progress brought suffering- like Jesus Christ and the bearing of that God-forsaken wooden cross, the Calabrese symbol of resilience.
“My Father looked after the goats, that’s what men did, but with the war, each man made a different profession. He joined the army and learned to cut hair. War made it easier for people to find an occupation, even though we did not go to school. We had an uncle who was a goat herder, but he had to stop and go on a pension because of cataracts. I remember my Nonno Strangio showed me how to make the ricotta. Nonna Francesca was good at making it too, as was Zia Angela, she made the cheese and that took a lot longer”. Giuseppa Callipari
Up to the mid -80s my Father’s morning ritual was to milk the cow. The fresh milk was left at the door in a metal bucket. Mum would store the milk in aluminum saucepans, large enough to bathe a newborn. It would be placed on the top shelf of the fridge in the room we called the fridge room, essentially the pantry, a dark, cool room which housed a freezer, a fridge, ceramic pots and shelves for preserves. A makeshift hole in the floor with wire mesh between the fridge and freezer allowed for ventilation.
After two days, the fat from the milk had formed a thick yellow layer, which we scooped off the top to churn into butter. When I allude to churn, we actually used the electric beater on high to get a thick cream and finally the separation of the fat and buttermilk, using our hands squeezed, oozing out the water, left us holding the yellow, fat, greasy butter ready for the allocated dish.
With the milk mum also made ricotta and cheese adapting the recipes. Cow’s milk was the norm and goat’s milk was foreign and rare. She recalled that early in their relationship a single goat supplied milk, however as the family grew and after I was born, the third child, her father in law, lent them one of his cows, until they could afford to buy their own. She learned to make ricotta from her mother at the time. It became trendy to own a cow- it must have been a huge saving for them and a way to live well and have plenty.
There was always a long process in making ricotta. The large pots warmed on the combustion stove. Set to the side then a number of junket tablets into the warm liquid produced the curd, stirred with the wooden stick that rested across the taps of the kitchen sink, had also tasted discipline on the bottoms of children.
With the action of the stick, stirred and broke the curdling milk, and then by hand gently massaged the soft curd together into a heavy, dense ball, lifting it out and into the ricotta vessels, whey liquid drained from the cane basket. The leftover whey then with more milk, vinegar or lemon juice back on the heat revealed the ricotta rising to the top.
The surface resembled a creamy froth, la stuma, a slotted spoon, was used to ladle the ricotta steaming into bowls, drizzled with honey and devoured by salivating mouths in waiting. The remaining whey juice was reserved as Dad’s favorite drink, so that for days to follow, the effects of which could be heard exploding from his rear end, like punctuation marks in the daily banter. Eventually, we did not even notice, just bodily functions like the wind, daily machination.
It was my afterschool responsibility to look after the cow, to make sure that she had been watered and fed. (What for, the job of men tending to goats in the village?)
We only ever had one cow, at one time, that would also calve the next generation of Redda. Redda was the name given to all our cows because she was a red cow.
Many afternoons I would spend holding her from a three metre long heavy chain, at a distance, so as not to frighten, or upset her rhythm of eating the long, fresh Lucerne in the rows of vines, planted not only to fuel her milk production and sustenance, but also to fertilize the vines and nourish the soil.
There were many times that Redda would become irate, buck and eventually drag me along on the end of that heavy chain, ripping at my arm, so that I had to let go, swearing and running after her, praying that she would not end up on the road and cause an accident. I knew she hated being tied up all the time, but I found comfort when I observed her sitting in the shade of the harvest racks, against the setting sun chewing her cud with contented demeanor, after the daily ordeal.
Mum does not make ricotta any more. She can buy a whole kilogram from the supermarket for $9.00. There are both goat’s milk and cow’s milk ricotta in the deli section. I’m sure it’s not the same as home-made ricotta.
I asked her to make it again for me so I could take some photos.