Published/ Providence Journal/ June 14, 2015
Grandma called olive oil the secret to life
Our mother loved visiting new physicians so she could entertain them with stories of why she looked so young at 90 years of age. “I live like my mother and father did by eating fresh vegetables, beans, and cooking with pure olive oil. I still make the escarole and beans the way my mother taught us, with a little garlic and a bit of prosciutto.”
What she never did admit, however, was keeping the can of olive oil under the sink — as did her mother. It had to be nearby so that you could pour a bit in your hands and then rub it into your face to keep away the wrinkles.
That heavy, encrusted cooking treasure was used for sweet batter pancakes, Italian toast with an egg in the center, as well as peppers and eggs, for breakfast. The olive oil remained on the counter covered with a piece of wax paper so throughout the day the golden liquid was ready for frying garlic to a light golden brown, which became the basis for all of her soups and tomato sauces. That pan also welcomed her eggplant slices dipped in batter, her herb-infused sausage, peppers, and onions, as well as zucchini flowers.
“Grandma, why do you strain oil into the coffee can,” I asked one day.
With a look of surprise, she answered: “So I can reuse it. It is full of good flavors. That’s Grandma’s cooking secret. “
There was no dishwasher in the house and so everything was rinsed by hand except for the black frying pan. You wiped it with piece of cloth that was as thin as cheesecloth. Grandma did not like using paper napkins on her frying pan because she knew that her own “pan clothes” were soaked and washed in Castile soap for four hours.
Midday she would say, “Now you can take them out and hang them on the line. Be sure they are not in the shade because I want the sunshine on them to give them a kissed by the sun scent.”
Whenever a relative on Grandpa’s side died in their 70s — Grandma would say, “They died young because they were cheap. They cooked with lard. Remember this — one of the secrets to a long life is that to a long life is that can under the sink — my olive oil.”
Rita Watson: Family’s secret to a long life was under the sink