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Basil & Walnut Pesto

13-02-19_BasilWalnutPesto

She unconsciously hummed along with the music playing in the background, humm de dum de da. It was from Milan she explained, as a smile triggered by an ancient memory flitted across her face.

The heavy wooden chopping board belonged to her mother, the cleaver had been borrowed from my mother and the basil was picked just moments before from her own garden. Ro was chopping up herbs for pesto, again, it was the third time in two weeks.

13-02-19_BasilWalnutPesto

My grandmother still makes her pesto the old way. It’s the way she learned growing up, the way her mother did it for ten children, the way thousands of Sicilian women did before her.

As I watch her wash the basil in the metal scolapasta she says “It’s late in the season, you have to pick around the woody parts to get the good leaves but there is still plenty out there if you are patient“.

13-02-19_BasilWalnutPesto

13-02-19_BasilWalnutPesto

Her knife rolls through the fragrant herbs like an old habit and she tells me, “You have to start with a little bit at a time, you can’t just put it all on the board, it won’t turn out fine enough. Don’t use one of those blenders though, they just crush it. Pesto tastes better when you make it by hand.

13-02-19_BasilWalnutPesto

Still humming to the music she talks of how her mother would make fresh pasta each autumn. On a string stretched from one side of the big open kitchen to the other they would hang it to dry before packing it away in a cool closet for use through the winter. Her sisters would do the same thing in their kitchens years later, but Ro never made pasta…

13-02-19_BasilWalnutPesto

13-02-19_BasilWalnutPesto

The second youngest, and shall we say slightly rebellious, child in a family of ten Ro didn’t learn how to cook when she was young – there were more than enough older sisters doing that particular chore so she was put to work cleaning instead.

When Ro married Poppy in her early 20’s she couldn’t, as she says, “even tell the difference between a pork chop and and a ham“, although she did know how to saute onions and vegetables in olive oil… we’ll assume that one runs in the blood!

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The first pie she ever made for my grandfather called for ‘starch’ in the filling and let’s just say she discovered quite quickly that ironing starch is very different to corn starch… although the former still made a beautiful looking pie, the taste left something to be desired.

13-02-19_BasilWalnutPesto

However five children, a Sicilian appetite, and 1940’s and 50’s newspaper clippings meant she learned her way around a kitchen pretty quickly and almost all of our favourite family recipes come from Ro.

Over the years I’ve learned most of them by following along during summer vacation, Thanksgiving and Christmas as she whipped up various feasts.

13-02-19_BasilWalnutPesto

During our last trip we spent a full two weeks at mum’s farm, it was the longest visit I’ve had in many years. It gave me an opportunity to pick grapes from the vineyard and tomatoes from the garden, drink cups of tea on the veranda, eat far too many muffins, and learn how to make Ro’s pesto.

13-02-19_BasilWalnutPesto

13-02-19_BasilWalnutPesto

Pesto made this way simply tastes better, it’s fresher, more fragrant, more true. Maybe it’s because it takes a bit more work, or perhaps it’s just simply the way it should be.

Ro celebrated her 88th birthday a few days ago – she’s a gorgeous thing isn’t she? Happy Birthday RoRo, I love you.

13-02-19_BasilWalnutPesto

13-02-19_BasilWalnutPesto

It’s times like this, standing in my own kitchen cooking a dish passed down through the generations, that remind me I need to get in gear and create a cookbook for my family. But first I need to get to Sicily…

Do you have classic family recipe? If you’ve posted it feel free to add a link to your comment. I’ve also turned this recipe into the Calendar Printable for March.

13-02-19_BasilWalnutPesto

Comments

  1. brenda hayes says

    Very nice job, and you made Ro’s day!!She has her own official copy to show her friends. She said it was the best birthday present ever!! Thank you.

  2. Aunt Cathe says

    Who doesn’t LOVE Ro’s pesto!? and just spending time with her at the farm. What a lovely birthday gift. The photos really put you in the kitchen. Thanks Jen! Love you and miss you.

  3. says

    You are completely right JJ! I love this so much! I reread parts of it again and again, it’s so beautiful seeing Ro’s time-weathered, experienced hands making that finely chopped, fragrant pesto. You know, I’ve never actually had an Italian mamma explain pesto making to me but I make my pesto very similarly to this (but I do the garlic and nuts in my mortar and pestle with some chilli flakes and then add in the chopped herbs and olive oil). I will try her exact method next I time. Thanks for sharing this beautiful post with us. And yes, Ro is so beautiful, love that portrait photo of her xxx

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