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  • Mustard Greens--More Than Just a Pretty Valley Flower
    Part 2 of 2: Sunday Dinner
    Italian Memories

    by Cookie Curci

    On Sundays, when the family gathered at Grandma's house, the joyful fragrances of freshly cooked mustard greens and simmering tomato sauce permeated the atmosphere. On these occasions we waited anxiously to hear grandma call out our favorite words, "Veini a mangiare." Before dinner was served, glasses of red wine were raised to our good health along with Papa's celebratory words, "Salute per cent'anni."

    "Good health for a 100 years," the family would echo back. Then, and only then, could the meal begin.

    Today, sad to say, fewer and fewer families continue the Sunday dinner ritual. The plentiful prune ranches that once graced our valley and offered local residence free and bountiful greens have all but disappeared now. The 1960s and 1970s brought microwave cooking to the family kitchen and a full-course dinner is being zapped in shorter time than it takes to swallow down a pre-dinner cocktail. The bright golden-yellow mustard green flowers that once filled our Valley's hillsides and orchards are seen now only in sparse patches along the freeways.

    The traditional foods from our past are getting harder and harder to find. My "hunt" for mustard greens, fava beans, and quince takes me to the corner supermarket, where, nine-times-out-of-10, I'll not find them.

    Recently, two longtime friends of mine braved the cold weather and muddy orchards to search out a small patch of mustard greens growing in an open field off the busy highway. My friends generously gifted my household with a lovely bundle of these freshly picked greens.

    A pot of water was quickly set to boil. A few minutes later, the mustard greens were tossed into my frying pan with a little olive oil, garlic (of course) and dried red peppers. A loaf of French bread was torn into chunks, glasses of Chianti poured, and as we raised our glasses in a toast, we happily declared: "Salute per cent'anni!"

    How comforting to know that good friends, traditional foods, and the flavors of our heritage can still be found -- perhaps not in the same abundance as we once knew them, but still here for us to enjoy, nonetheless.

    Part 1: Picking Mustard Greens


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