If I were to ask what “tradition” means to you, what do you think you’d say?
I feel like, in theory, “tradition” would be the same for everyone. Take its base meaning: a customary pattern of thought or behavior, or the handing down of information, beliefs, and customs.
But, despite the fact that this word has a set definition, traditions widely differ from person to person, and from family to family – even from state to state and country to country. And they can be as small as visiting that one house down the block every Christmas that has the moving animatronics, seizure-inducing blinking lights and strobes, and holiday music blaring or as big as visiting nonna for her birthday each year in her Tuscan village and helping shear the sheep and stomp the grapes.
Again, each person/family differs, so to me, there’s nothing more interesting than hearing people’s diverse traditions and how they go about fulfilling them – it demonstrates how different we are, while simultaneously bringing us together, uniting us in the fact that we would do anything to keep tradition alive and hold onto that familiarity, that which makes us feel like ourselves and feel most connected to what we hold dear and those we cherish.
When someone says, “It’s a tradition,” I feel as though he/she should be recused of (almost) everything, and that nothing should stand in the way of that being fulfilled – that person cares about keeping something alive outside of him/herself.
So, after all of that exposition, now comes the crux of this post: the tradition I, myself, tried to carry forth this year.
Now, of course, if you’re attempting to carry on a deep-rooted, family ancestor-related tradition, without guidance from the one from whom it sprang in the first place, it can be difficult to get the ritual down, and there may be tears, or, at least, frustration. There’s just a lot of pressure, okay, you have an entire ancestral line to follow. Sorrynotsorry for the tears.
Anywho, my great grandmother, following an Italian tradition (her having been from Italy), would make struffoli around Christmas time for the fam. My dad said she would be in the kitchen rolling those little balls of dough for hours in order to make enough for everyone.
The honey goes on after you fry ’em, along with all the confection you want.
My grandmother used to make it, as well, and it was maybe over a year ago that I decided I wanted to try my hand at it, mainly because my grandmother hadn’t made it in forever and I missed it. So, I got the recipe from her, and before I knew it, Christmas was over, and I hadn’t taken the recipe out of my drawer.
THIS was my year. I dug in my drawer, pulled out that crumpled piece of paper with my scribbles on it, and placed it on our kitchen table so that it would be in my face every day. And, I announced that I was going to make it so that people were expecting it and I had to do it. I even promised my friends and grandmother some.
Got the ingredients. Got the utensils. Planned an evening for it. Roped my mom in for help. Laid out my sprinkles and honey on the table.
Mixing the dough took awhile, but the length of time didn’t bother me as much as manually mixing did – def not easy. Well, it’s easy to start, but once you continue adding flour to give it the doughy consistency, it gets tougher and tougher, which is good because you need to be able to roll it and work with it.
Once the dough was basically done, I started cutting it and rolling the pieces into strips.
“No, I think those are way too thick; they’re supposed to be much thinner than that.”
“Dad, don’t watch me do this, okay. This is my thing.”
I don’t like doing literally anything with someone watching, not even something I’m really good at. Again, pressure.
“Amanda, the balls are supposed to be smaller; those are too big.”
Okay, turn the dirty minds off – after you cut the strips, you’re supposed to cut pieces of said strip and roll them into little balls. Honestly, my grandmother hasn’t made it in so long, I didn’t realize they were supposed to be balls, plus she didn’t say that in the directions, plus they don’t necessarily have to be balls, but, again, tradition.
I was getting frustrated because honestly, I felt like I wasn’t good enough to be doing this to begin with, me not being a baker and all, nor an old Italian grandmother from Italy, so there was already that level of insecurity that was now being compounded.
So, I kicked him out. “You know he’s just trying to help,” mom says.
“I’ve only watched my grandmother do this a thousand times,” dad says.
*Gets irrationally annoyed at no one being on my side*, Amanda says, internally.
I cut some of the bigger balls in half, and rolled them smaller. About half of my dough was used, and my mom threw them into the pot of oil on the stove to fry. After they got a little hard, we took them out and placed them in a bowl, then put the rest in there to fry.
Finally, my “masterpiece” was done. All that was left was the decorating. I take the bottle of honey, look at it, get dismayed by the fact that my parents accidentally bought blueberry honey, and drizzle it on anyway.
Even the easiest part didn’t go how I wanted.
Then came the confectionary sprinkles. I sprinkled so much on so as to cover every little bit.
All in all, it came out pretty good and tasted basically how it was supposed to. However, all of these events occurred a week before Christmas – what I came to find out was a tad too early to make struffoli.
When I whipped out my batch at Christmas, popped one in my mouth, and chewed, I was not filled with the sweet glaze of honey or the crunchy goodness of fried dough, but rather the bland, dried-out, stale taste of what was like the ghost of what it once tasted like.
I had no one try it (save for a couple who dared), I gave none to my friends, and I absolutely did NOT give any to my grandmother, who was waiting to try some.
I will say this, though: One learns from trial and error. This was my first time doing it, so now that I’ve learned the dos and don’ts, next time will be better.
And closer to the time when I wanna whip them out and have people eat them.
So, that was one of the traditions I tried to carry forth this year.
You know how they say, “It’s the thought that counts”? Well, additionally, “It’s the effort that counts.” Can’t say I didn’t try.
Great grandma, send me some guidance next time. Grandma Jean, have your phone on loud so you can hear it when I call pleading for help.