Back-of-the-book blurb: Clara Cannucciari is a 94 year-old grandmother whose Great Depression Cooking videos have an army of devoted followers. In Clara’s Kitchen, she gives readers words of wisdom to buck up America’s spirits, recipes to keep the wolf from the door, and tells her story of growing up during the Great Depression with a tight-knit family and a “pull yourself up by your bootstraps” philosophy of living. In between recipes, Clara gives readers practical advice on cooking nourishing meals for less. She reminisces about her youth and writes with love about her grandchildren and great-grandchildren. Clara’s Kitchen takes readers back to a simpler, if not more difficult time, and gives everyone what they need right now: hope for the future and a nice dish of warm pasta from a woman who knows what’s really important in life.
She is Too Fond of Books’ review: Clara’s Kitchen is part memoir, part fortune-cookie aphorism, and part cookbook. It is a comfort read in the sense that Clara Cannucciari reminds me of my own Gram, and both her stories and the food she serves bring pleasant memories of simpler times.
The prose of her memoir may be transcibed recordings of an oral history – very familiar, conversational, and no-nonsense. When asked how her family lived on so little during the Great Depression, Clara tells us:
… it wasn’t easy, but we managed. We just relied on what we did have – the ability to sacrifice and put our needs in perspective. To be resourceful about what we got. And by preparing and eating simple, filling foods.
Words of wisdom are included in boxed sidebars called “Take It from Me.” Plain and simple advice, they again reminded me of my own grandmother, and brought a smile to my face. Here’s a favorite:
Take It from Me: If you don’t have time to exercise, just clean your kitchen. I think it’s kind of silly – the people jogging. Scrubbing my floors and counters makes everything strong, and my kitchen looks good.
Similarly, the recipes are plain and simple, often relying on vegetables Clara’s family was able to grow in their own kitchen garden, or items that could be foraged, such as dandelion greens or mushrooms. Squash with Eggs, Salad Sandwich, and The Lonely Meatball are some of the recipes you’ll find.
This is not a typical memoir, nor is it a typical cookbook. It will appeal to a more narrow set of readers, those who make a ‘comfort connection’ to a memory invoked by the author and her straightforward approach to life and cooking. Perhaps second-generation Italians will connect to the many family stories and ethnic traditions Clara shares.
I was hoping to find a recipe for hermits (those soft gingerbread and raisin cookies my Gram made were a favorite!), but not in this volume; maybe there will be a Return to Clara’s Kitchen! Here’s Clara’s recipe for Sugar Cookies, and a YouTube clip of her explaining how these cookies fit into their Depression-era Sunday breakfasts:
- 3/4 cup sugar
- 3/4 cup (1 1/2 sticks) butter
- 3 large eggs
- 3 cups all-purpose flour
- pinch of salt
- preheat oven to 350
- cream the sugar and butter together in a medium bowl. In a separate bowl, whisk the eggs, then mix them in with the creamed butter
- add about 1 1/2 cups flour and mix it into the batter until the flour disappears. Work the batter into a dough, adding the rest of the flour as necessary, about 1 1/2 cups more
- on a clean work surface or board spread out an even coating of flour. Take a handful of dough and roll it out in the flour, shaping it into a roll
- cut each of the rolls into 3-inch sections, giving the smaller sections each a couple of small cuts in the middle, and then curling the sections into half-moons
- place the cookies on an ungreased cookie sheet (I don’t use grease on the pans because the dough’s got enough grease) and bake at 250 until golden brown, 13 to 15 minutes.
- remove the cookies from the oven and cool at least 30 minutes before eating