Mom's Magic Apron

by Harry T. Roman


Mom could cook anything, and make it taste delicious. We swore she had some special powder hidden in that old frayed apron that gave her mystical powers in the kitchen. Maybe it was some kind of culinary black magic, but it certainly was great she practiced it for us. The Holidays were her moment to shine, and did she ever. That's when all the pots and pans came out, and family came over for an Anna Roman feast.

Where do I begin? So much food and so little time. You come from an Italian family and everything revolves around the dining room table. All important things are discussed over food. You don't feel!

Mom always had something going on the stove. It is a sad Italian household with nothing simmering on the stove. I'll ease slowly into it with one of my Holiday favorites....escarole soup. Start with a nice chicken consommé’ and a little rice, slice a few carrots and simmer a bit before you toss in the fresh escarole. Then simmer some more and serve with a nice sprinkling of Parmesano Cheese. What you got there my friends is liquid heaven in a bowl.

That's how Easter dinner always started off. We used to call it "bellywash", so light and tasty, designed to get those juices flowing. Holiday meals were a grand seduction in our house. You started at 3:00 and ate until after 9:00. After the seductive escarole soup, with both Mom and her magic apron warmed up, out came the salad. Our monstrous salad bowl was overflowing with fresh iceberg lettuce, olives, cucumbers, peppers, and chunks of tomato. To keep the salad company.....a very nice platter of salami, provolone, proscuitto, pepperoni, and chunks of hard cheeses. Oh yes, bread, plenty of that. Now here is where it got serious. From this point on, the kitchen was off limits as Mom brought out the heavy artillery-the main courses-----yes, main courses.....plural.

"Hey Shultz! (one of the many, many names my Dad called me).........Pour the

First salvo from the kitchen......a heavy barrage of homemade manicotti, chicken parm, meatballs, sausage, and perhaps some eggplant. "Ohhs and ahhs" all around, as the piles of food quickly disappeared. Everyone secretly wished there would be leftovers. Following this came the first interlude, a strategic disengagement from the table to let it hit bottom, while Mom tactically retreated to re-load her apron. Men moved into the living room for some first-half football action and maybe a short snooze. Only women were allowed in the kitchen--no exceptions. After a suitable period of rest---

"Hey Stavros!" (another affectionate name.....have no idea where he got that one from)........"Wake up Uncle Tony and Uncle Tootie, Mom's getting ready for the main assault. Better check on Uncle Joe, he's snoring funny. Might have a manicotti hung up in there."

We waddle into the dining room just as Mom let's go with the second salvo ........Yankee Pot Roast, with corn, broccoli, mashed potatoes, and all sorts of other stuff just in case someone is extra hungry. "I hope there 's enough for everyone", Mom worries.

At this point, Dad would utter his routine holiday benediction...."Enough?
You could feed a paratrooper battalion with all this food!"

"Yeah, I can hear the planes coming in now, Dad." (my two cents)

"Eat and keep quiet Slick (yet another name), your mother worked hard on

And so it went, another disappearing food act ensued. I can taste that pot roast now, with the corn kernels all lathered in butter, salt, and pepper. The broccoli hot and steaming, and potatoes like creamed heaven with maybe some onion bits or garlic flavoring, topped off with hot brown gravy. What a feast, leading to the second, much more serious interlude.

Men and women separate again and this time we are not talking about a snooze or a nap in front of the TV set.....we are talking deep sleep, and in some cases near coma-like experiences. The dog has been eating all this stuff as well, and he is about to collapse at any moment, his tummy almost touching the rug. We are talking maybe 90 minutes here. Dishes must be done, the table cleared and cleaned, the women must swap some recipes and stories and gossip, while the men pretend to watch football….. and the insides of their eyelids.

All is quiet in the living room, as the women talk shop. Aunt Angie and Aunt Millie are telling old stories amid stifled laughter, and muffled giggles. Time passes and digestion progresses so deliciously slow….and then Mom orders----

“Wake the men, it’s time for dessert”. This task usually fell to my kid sisters. The dog does not even stir, as the men awaken from their dry mouthed snoring to catch the scent of hot coffee and pastries in the air. In they come, trance-like to a table filled with cannoli, sfogliotelle, napoleons, rum laced sponge cakes, Mom’s cherry confetti cake, and sweet cookies. By now that pasta in our bellies has exhausted all our insulin and we need something sweet (this really does happen); and the pastries are leaped upon. We almost don’t even notice the fruits, nuts, and chocolates.

The sugar and the caffeine stir everybody back up, and after about an hour of this portion of the feast, Dad suggests maybe a big penny poker game; or out comes the old 8mm movie projector to take a look at past family events. By about 9:00 or so, Mom asks,

“Anybody hungry?”

“I could pick a little”, someone says.

And that kicks off the nibbling of the leftovers. Year after year, holiday after holiday, that was Mom’s dining room. On Thanksgiving, it was pasta first and then the Turkey. On Christmas it was pasta and fish. Always two main courses. The action that old apron saw!

Now if you are keeping company with a nice Italian girl or engaged to be married, well that takes special intestinal fortitude, because you must eat at both Mom’s and your intended mother-in-law’s table. You must eat twice on each and every holiday.

“Hey hon, I got this urge for escarole soup!” Thank God Mom taught my wife the recipe, but she swore her to secrecy, magic powder and all.


When I was studying at the Newark College of Engineering, three of us old neighborhood “paisanos” used to meet at each other’s houses after dinner several nights a week to work out the tough electrical engineering problems our professors would assign. Many students worked in teams. Whenever we met at our house, Mom would always have her apron on, and some snacks simmering for me, Marty and George. It was only maybe an hour-and-a-half after we had dinner, but Mom and the stove were ready for a second round. The guys loved to meet at our old 5th Street house, and so did I !!

Oh yeah….. in those college days Dad had another new name for me…….Einstein!

What can I say?


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