When Joseph Marinello was given a year to live in 1991, he didn’t want his family’s rich tradition of Italian cooking to die with him. So the first generation American, whose parents immigrated through Ellis Island in the early 1900s, picked up a tape recorder and shared everything he could remember about growing gardens, making meatballs, and perfecting pesto, among dozens of other techniques and recipes.
When he passed away at 75 years old in 1992, the tapes were passed to his three daughters, who he’d raised with his wife, Julia, in Burbank. But the grieving sisters couldn’t bear to hear his voice so soon.“About 10 years after he died, we finally listened to them,” said his daughter Joan Bowman, who moved to Santa Barbara in 1986 and raised her own children here. “It was hard for us, but when we did, we realized that we had a treasure.”
Rather than just turn the tapes into a recipe book for their extended family as dad intended, Bowman and her sisters, Linda Carman (a Bay Area resident) and Jeri Pederson (of Grant’s Pass, Oregon), decided to turn the intimate recordings into a real book. Relying heavily on Bowman’s experience from a publishing career with Girls Inc.’s Advocacy Press, the sisters built a book that blended their family’s favorite dishes (including many from their mother and other relatives) with compelling vignettes that channeled their father’s spirit. The result is La Cucina Marinello: Three Generations of Italian Cooking, a very practical yet often touching 235-page book of recipes, kitchen tips, gardening techniques, and heartfelt memories to make your own home a hotbed of Italian-American cuisine.
“We really tested the recipes, and we worked on the narrative too,” said Bowman. “We wanted to capture my father’s vision, and I think we did, especially in the gardening chapter, where you can almost hear his New York Italian accent. We love the simplicity and the charm of his straight talk.”
The easy-to-follow recipes range from the traditional (Italian wedding soup, Bolognese sauce, Sunday meatballs, etc.) to the personal (mom’s meatloaf, Aunt Vera’s manicotti, Joe’s hamburgers with oven fries) to the more creative (no-cook marinara and freezer-friendly pesto). There are also handy charts on equivalents (fresh vs. canned tomatoes, dry versus liquid ingredients), suggestions on what to put in your pantry, and a glossary that helps understand the Marinello family’s kitchen language.
But for Bowman, the recipes really relay deeper themes. “Our narrative really engages people with the notion of family and food and getting together, and how powerful that can be in creating a healthy family,” explained Bowman, remarking that the process also brought her closer to her sisters and even taught her 94-year-old Uncle Arty new things about his late brother as well. “There is also my dad’s belief that anybody could be a good Italian cook,” she added. “His notion of improvisational cooking is something he always stressed with people, the idea that you can take a few simple ingredients and those ingredients can combine to create a variety of dishes.”
The bright green hard cover book, decorated with both tantalizing food photos and faded pictures from the family albums, is already for sale at various bookstores and cooking shops around town. Yet even if it didn’t sell one copy, Bowman and her sisters are satisfied with the record they’ve left for their children, and had a great time doing it. Said Bowman, “It was really a joy.”
Joan Bowman will sign copies of La Cucina Marinello: Three Generations of Italian Cooking at Tecolote Books on Saturday, November 22, 2 p.m.; at Encanto in La Arcada on Thursday, December 3, 5-8 p.m. (with live jazz and Carr Winery); and during Carpinteria’s Holiday on the Lane at Porch on Saturday, December 13, 10 a.m.-4 p.m. See lacucinamarinello.com. Also, see Joan Bowman’s blog at foodandfriendshipsantabarbara.com.