My Mother’s Food

When I was growing up, my mother, of Italian descent, served up swoon-worthy meals for my sister, my brother, and me.

Her pasta sauce, referred to by many Italians as “Sunday gravy,” was a masterpiece in and of itself. Often made from tomatoes from my father’s garden, the sauce was redolent with basil, garlic, parmesan – and enough meat to satisfy a lumber camp.

Neckbones, pork, and/or beef. The best meatballs I’ve ever had to this day. Italian sausage. Oh, my goodness, they were sublime. The meat simmered in the sauce for hours, filling our home with its heady aroma, so that by the time we sat down for dinner, we were ravenous.

One of my favorite memories is of sitting at the kitchen table, watching Mom make her sauce. Without fail, I got the “cook’s treat,” either a meatball or a neckbone, of which I sucked at greedily, getting every last bit of the meat and marrow. She’d watch me, waiting for my approving “Mmmmmm,” which was my standard response. How could it be anything else? I was sampling ambrosia.

Without a doubt, spaghetti or linguine smothered in my mother’s sauce was one of my all-time favorite meals. As I write this, I can almost taste the sunshine in the fresh tomatoes and the umami in the parmesan. Sharp. Pungent. With a salty tang.

I would share the recipe here, but my mother told my sister that she didn’t want the recipe to be divulged to anyone but family members, and we respected that.

Liver. Yes, liver. My mother worked her magic on that, as well. She had a trick of soaking the organ meat in milk, to take that gamey, funky taste out, and it worked. Fried with onions, it was sublime.

Then there was her Chicken Vesuvio. Chicken sautéed with wine, olive oil and a boatload of garlic. As good as any of Chicago’s Italian restaurants.

We weren’t rich, by any means. But, between my mother’s cooking and my dad’s prowess with the grill, we ate like royalty. Steak. Chicken. Pork chops. And, that incredible pasta sauce. How blessed were we? Did we realize it then? When I watched my mother cook, I like to think I did.

Sunday mornings were my dad’s bailiwick: Lox, bagels, smoked sable, knishes, and other Jewish delights, and all from Kaufman’s Bakery & Delicatessen in Skokie, Illinois, which is still going strong. That was THE place and on weekends, Dad was drawn there like a moth to a flame. But, that’s a story for another time.

I no longer eat red meat. But, that doesn’t stop me from the frequent longings I feel for my mother’s food. My mother’s kitchen. If only I could “sample” her meatballs, just one more time.

My beautiful mother would have been 88 years old on December 26th of this year. I miss her every day.


Sherry McGuinn
Sherry McGuinn
Sherry McGuinn is a long-time, Chicago area, advertising/marketing writer, blogger and, for the last fifteen years, screenwriter. A big-time dreamer and proud of it, Sherry has had two short films produced, one in L.A., the other in New York. Both won several awards and screened at festivals but she is still "fighting the good fight," in order to become a full-time, working screenwriter. A passionate straight-shooter who never rests on her laurels, Sherry writes about damn near everything because how do you encapsulate…life? Unflinching in her determination to “just tell the truth,” Sherry strives to educate, engage and inspire others to follow their dreams. A lifelong animal lover and advocate, Sherry resides in a Chicago suburb with her husband and their three fabulous felines.

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  1. Sherry, reading your article took me back to my mother’s Italian kitchen in Dunkirk NY. As 1st generation Italian/Americans, food was and is how we expressed love. We didn’t have money for trips or vacations but every Sunday anywhere from 7 to 20 people (all family) showed up for spaghetti, Mom’s home made sauce, meatball, sausage and whatever else she found in the refrigerator. My mother would have been 88 on March 8. Like you, we miss her dearly.

    • That’s a beautiful recollection, Frank. I can see everyone gathering around your mother’s table in my mind’s eye. This is a tough time of year for missing loved ones, isn’t it?

      Thank you so much for reading and commenting,

  2. Sherry,

    You had me salivating as well, and I could hear your ardent wish to taste your mother’s cooking again.

    Every now and again I receive a text from one of my 3 daughters reminding me of something I used to cook but don’t anymore unless they come home to visit. Your article reminded me that these things are important for them to have as memories. .

    Thank you

  3. Mark, she really was a stellar cook, and an intuitive one. I have to thank Dennis for running this as my folks have been gone five years now, and it was right before Thanksgiving that they were both diagnosed with cancer. I keep wondering what they would think about our world, now. I sure know what my Dad would say about POTUS!

    Thank you, very much.