Polenta, a popular staple in Europe was served in Abruzzo in a very unique way. As kids, we would get excited when we saw Mom take out the long polenta board, a little smaller than our kitchen table. On polenta day, there was no table to set since we would be eating off the board. The more people the more fun it would be. My mother would start the process of slowly adding handfuls of the cornmeal to the polenta pot full of hot simmering water, letting it slide gently between the fingers of her left hand, so as not to allow the water to stop simmering. If added in haste or into boiling water, the result could be a solid mass of polenta unable to absorb the water.
With her right hand, she would begin stirring in one direction so as not to create lumps of polenta. After a few minutes, she would allow my sisters and me to take turns stirring the stone-ground coarse cornmeal into the big copper polenta pot of hot water, always using a wooden paddle with a long handle so as not to be burned with splattering polenta.
Dad would pour the hot polenta all over the board as we youngsters would help spread it out to the edges. Mom would ladle her freshly made tomato sauce over the polenta with various kinds of meat which always included homemade sausage and meat on bones. Mom allowed us to use our hands to devour every last piece of meat off the bone, giggling at each other’s tomato-sauce-painted faces. Needless to say, this was only with family members present!
The real fun was eating it. We all forked our way through it, often making designs. We would relish the hot polenta as each design connected with another. Often the design would be the world map, as my sisters and I would fork out the United States, my cousins, Europe. The design always included the boot of Italy. The more we ate the more of the world was revealed.
Years later when questioning my adult children on their most precious memories around the dinner table the answer was unanimous, polenta days. I feel fortunate that my parents, as Italian-Italians, maintained their tradition. I, as a first generation Italian-American, tried my best to continue to do so. Unfortunately, as much as they all loved polenta days in their youth, my children, American-Italians, rarely find time to take part in this tradition. Their children, American-Americans, adopting the mannerisms of their country, will allow another old-world tradition to vanish, only to be brought to mind when researching traditions of yesterday in Abruzzo.