Posted in Columns

Family Tradition Tucked into 500 Squares of Pasta

There’s nothing like coming home from a long day at work to a flour-covered kitchen.
I mean really flour-covered. Flour on the counter, flour on the floor and in the sink, flour in piles and semi-wet splotches on the table. Flour on my husband and flour on his mom.

I made a snapshot of the image in my brain, the two of them working independently together to preserve their 50-plus-year-old family tradition.

My husband sat at one end of the table feeding golden dough through a machine that complained in a shrill voice – much to the dog’s dismay – with each pass. This was his dad’s job for more than 15 of the 50 years. Dad died five years ago and the machine has pretty much been silent since then.

This was the week for a ravioli revival.

To my husband’s right, his mom focused on flouring the back of

each dough rectangle, placing it on the form, making the pockets and filling them with cheese or meat mixtures that merge the flavors of her marriage with mine, with my husband’s and even our kids’ childhood memories.

Her fingers worked with precision:  Flour. Stretch. Place. Pockets. Fill.

Flour. Dough. Roll. Peel.

Flip. Arrange. Repeat.

All the while, the motor’s symphonic whine continued as the dough was readied for the next batch.

Ravioli revival became ravioli marathon – 10 hours’ worth when those delicious little pasta pockets were all in the freezer and the kitchen made spotless.
I volunteered for cleanup. It was my contribution for being privy to taste-testing a half-dozen or so ravioli.

They tasted like they have for the nearly 30 years I’ve been part of this Italian family.

It made me think about tradition and how so many things weave our short lives into the intricate web that is our family, friends and community.

For the most part, we probably don’t think about them until something changes. Children grow up, get married and have their own kids. Someone moves. Someone dies.
Ravioli was always a New Year’s tradition. After seeing how much work it took to make enough ravioli to feed my husband’s immediate family – nearly 800 squares – I understand why my mother- and father-in-law only did this once a year!

Jan. 1 is four months away, but at this point, it didn’t matter. Son and mother wanted to spend time together so he could learn the process – and the “recipe” his mom has carried in her head for so many years.

We created little traditions with our kids when they were growing up, sometimes by accident. A giant Hershey Kiss on Valentine’s Day. First day of school photos. Notes from the tardy tooth fairy – with a dollar or two – when she forgot to make her rounds the previous night. Decorating school lockers on birthdays. Hiding plastic Easter eggs filled with candy throughout the house – even for the working college kid. Visiting Duluth (we lived in Minnesota for a long time)and eating at the same Vietnamese restaurant and then buying a sweet treat at the candy store next door.
Some of those things morphed from my childhood traditions – though the tooth fairy was always punctual at my house. Some started on a whim – going into school at the crack of dawn to plaster baby pictures and hang streamers all over a kid’s locker for his or her birthday.

I can’t wait to see which of those traditions our kids continue in their own lives. I look forward to a time when each of them will sit at the end of the table feeding golden dough through a flour-covered whining duck-taped machine, their dad at their right, flouring, stretching, placing and thinking about how connected they are to family.


I'm a writer, editor, photographer and artist living in rural Southeastern Wisconsin. I grew up in Chicago, made my way to the deep woods of Northern Minnesota and then landed here among the cornfields and cows. It's quite simply my happy place.

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