Cookbook heritage

  • Pat Lowell slow cooks onions in butter and adds a chunk of Gorgonzola cheese under her homemade polenta. Staff Photo/PAUL FRANZ

  • Pat Lowell, of Shelburne Falls, a member of the Angeli family. Staff Photo/PAUL FRANZ

  • Pat Lowell's Polenta and onions. Staff Photo/PAUL FRANZ

  • "Mangia" Contributed photo—

For the Recorder
Published: 9/16/2020 7:05:09 AM

The extended Angeli family of Charlemont has held a family reunion every summer for decades … until this year, when COVID-19 kept the clan from gathering. I recently spoke to two family members, Pat Lowell of Shelburne Falls and her daughter, Tammy Hicks, of Charlemont. 

“People would bring their favorite dishes,” Hicks recalled about the reunions. “You would take a bite of that chocolate brownie that has that mint topping and say, ‘That reminds me of Aunt Mary or Aunt Alice.’”

Fortunately, the descendants of Emma and Augusto Angeli can still celebrate their history and favorite dishes with their family cookbook, “Mangia.” First published in 1990, the spiral-bound tome is now in its ninth printing.

There’s “a long story” behind the book’s origins, according to Lowell. “My mother passed away in 1984. Her sister was looking for a family recipe. Everybody was calling everybody. ... My aunt said maybe we ought to start collecting some of these recipes before everybody passed on.”

The cookbook was a joint effort. Lowell’s aunt called every family member she could think of and collected recipes. Her sister typed up the recipes. Lowell herself was responsible for duplicating pages on her photocopier. In addition, she was/is the contact person for family members needing a copy of the book.

The book has now been distributed to six generations of family members. It includes recipes from more than 30 individual contributors, including Lowell and Hicks.

The original edition of the cookbook had a specific purpose: to raise enough money to rent a bus so that family members could go to Ellis Island. About 45 of them made the trip and arranged to have the Angeli family named engraved on the Wall of Honor there.

Lowell explained that her grandparents, Emma and Augusto Angeli, met and married in the Austrian Tyrol, “where it was a combination of German and Italian influenced cooking, as well as the dialect they spoke.” 

Augusto Angeli followed other relatives to this country in 1912, hoping to make enough money to bring his wife and children to the United States soon. Like many residents of the Austrian Alps, he was drawn to Western Massachusetts because of its similarity to his homeland.

“They were woodsmen,” Hicks said. “The mountains looked like home. And (there was work to be had on) the railroads.”

Unfortunately, the family reunion was delayed. When war broke out in 1914, the town in which Emma Angeli and her children lived was on the front lines. They were relocated to a refugee camp in the interior of Austria. Conditions were hard and disease claimed one of the children.

Emma Angeli was determined to survive. She took a job cleaning latrines to make enough money to leave the camp, then went to work on a farm nearby until the war ended in 1918.

“She walked several hundred miles to her home, which was now in Italy,” Lowell said. “Somehow, mail was reestablished, and (she and her husband) were able to communicate.”

In 1920, Emma Angeli and her two surviving children finally immigrated through Ellis Island and were reunited with Augusto. They moved to a farm in Charlemont and the family set down roots.

The cookbook that emerged from their heritage shares both recipes and memories of family life. Some of the recipes, like Hicks’s apple pie, are all American. Some, like Lowell’s polenta, reflect the clan’s Italian heritage.

Lowell’s mother was the Angelis’ daughter, Mary. Born Maria Angelica, she changed her name to Mary Helen when she became an American citizen, Lowell said. “She thought it sounded more American.” Mary Helen learned to make polenta from her mother and both passed their love of the dish on to Lowell.

“I remember Nonna making polenta in the copper kettle, setting the kettle into the top of the woodstove, continually stirring it with a long paddle, and then pouring it out onto a wooden cutting board and placing a kitchen towel on top of it,” Lowell wrote in the book. 

When the polenta had solidified, Emma Angeli would slice it with string. 

This original process took quite a while. Today, Lowell makes the polenta in her microwave, a definite time saver.

She noted that her family ate a lot of polenta when she was growing up, calling the solidified cornmeal mush “peasant food” — simple food that is one of life’s pleasures.

Remembering family history through cooking and sharing recipes is another such pleasure; a pleasure that families can pursue even these days when large gatherings are not possible. 

Pat’s Polenta with Gorgonzola

1 large onion, sliced thinly

“A large chunk” (Tammy Hicks’s words) of butter, about 1/4 cup

1 teaspoon salt

1-1/2 cups cornmeal

4 to 6 chunks of Gorgonzola cheese

In a skillet, lightly caramelize the onion in the butter. (This will take about 10 minutes.)

Grease a large round casserole dish, and place 2-1/2 cups water in it. Bring the water to a boil in the microwave. Stir in the salt.

Combine the cornmeal with 1-1/2 cups cold water. Using a wooden spoon, gradually stir the cornmeal mixture into the boiling water. Cover the casserole dish, and cook the polenta in the microwave on high heat in two-to-three-minute intervals, stirring after each interval.

If the mixture appears dry and is not pulling away from the sides of the bowl, add more water, 1/4 cup at a time. Continue cooking until the polenta sets up and pulls into a ball in the middle of the dish. The timing will depend on the power of your microwave.

Put chunks of Gorgonzola in the bottom of 4 to 6 serving dishes. (You will have to gauge your eaters’ appetites.) Cover with polenta, followed by the buttery sautéed onion. Serves four to six.

Tammy’s Blue-Ribbon Apple Pie

Tammy Hicks won a blue ribbon for this pie in 1986 at the Cummington Fair. Her grandmother, Mary, was also a blue-ribbon pie baker. Tammy likes to use Paula Red apples while her grandmother preferred the McIntosh variety.

For the pastry:

2 cups flour

1 teaspoon salt

cup vegetable shortening

5 to 7 tablespoons cold water in ice cubes

For the filling:

6 to 8 cups peeled, sliced apples

1 cup sugar

2 tablespoons flour

1 teaspoon pie spice

1 dash cinnamon

1 dash nutmeg

2 teaspoons butter

Milk or cream as needed

Begin by making the pastry. Sift together the flour and the salt. Cut in the shortening with a pastry knife or blender, ⅓ cup at a time. Add water, a tablespoon at a time, and mix until the dough begins to stick together. 

Turn onto a floured board and form into a ball. Cut the dough in half, wrap the halves in plastic wrap, and refrigerate.

While the dough refrigerates, prepare the apples. Take half of the dough and roll out your bottom crust. (Leave the other half refrigerated until you are ready to use it.) Fit the crust into a 9-inch pie plate and fill it with the apples. Mix the sugar and flour with the spices, and pour them over the apples. Top with the butter. 

Preheat the oven to 400 degrees. Roll out the top crust, and adjust it over the apples. Crimp the edges, using a little water to seal the crust. Cut steam vents in the top crust and brush a little milk or cream on top. 

Cover the crust with foil, and bake for about 50 minutes. Remove the foil for the last 10 minutes of baking to brown the crust lightly. Serves six to ten people.

Tinky Weisblat is the award-winning author of “The Pudding Hollow Cookbook,” “Pulling Taffy” and “Love, Laughter, and Rhubarb.” Visit her website,

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