Michele Marano grew up in the countryside of upstate New York, surrounded by nature and a close-knit family. Maria Marano, her grandmother who she lovingly refers to as “Nani,” had moved from her home country of Sicily to New York and eventually purchased an agricultural farm with her husband. The farm would become a place where they would raise their four children and later would extend to be home to their children’s kids.
Maria’s house served as the family’s gathering ground. In the mornings, before daily duties took precedence, you’d find the full family gathered in the kitchen. The coffee percolating, milk warming on the stove and the adults and grandkids patiently waiting with their cereal.
When it was time, the warmed milk would be poured over the cereal. Some would add a bit of sugar, but the key was the splash of coffee that would be added in just before you took the first bite. Simple and unique. It is a memory that Michele remembers to this day.
Even with family nearby, Michele always felt like an only child. Her sister, who is seven years older, had started to branch out and explore the world with her friends, and the cousins from next door were at an age where they weren’t as interested in coming over to play.
Michele didn’t mind though, she’d simply ride her bike down the street to her grandmother's house and spend time with her while she cooked.
Her grandmother’s cooking was a signature representation of her. She would make these dishes, some that she knew her entire life, in her humble kitchen. She would prep ingredients, including the greens she would pull from her farm, at her white porcelain sink.
“Everything happened right at Nani’s kitchen counter – I didn't have to participate, it wasn't something she made me do,” recalls Michele. “She would talk to me and she would do her thing. She was creating [dishes] and I literally watched every single thing she did, for years.”
What Michele didn’t know at the time was that this experience and these memories would make an impact on her later in life.
Creating An Heirloom
Cooking became a part of Michele’s life, a passion that grew from her childhood. The recipes she makes today for her family and friends are the ones she learned from her grandmother, all pulled from memory.
For years, she has thought about the significance of her “Nani” and her recipes.
“When you are surrounded by delicious meals, it’s natural to want to make them and that’s how it was for me,” says Michele. “ I never really thought about writing down the recipes, but I always knew in the back of my mind that these are amazing recipes. When I saw Heirloom on Instagram, I realized the opportunity had presented itself.”
Michele, who has been working on her Heirloom cookbook for the past two months, plans to finish creating her cookbook in December. Pulling a total of 30 recipes, Michele has been busy planning out a cooking schedule, recreating the recipes one by one and notating the exact ingredients and instructions. There have been a few recipes she’s had to redo because they didn’t turn out quite right.
“It’s tough because I’m doing it by memory, I don’t use exact ingredients,” says Michele. “Sometimes I change up the Italian marinara and make it spicier or creamy, but I had to stick to the authentic recipe my grandmother made and that was a challenge to get it right.”
She also jokes about making her husband wait to eat until she’s taken the photos she needs for her book.
The process is one that she describes as a personal and “raw experience” – putting memories to paper and seeing it come to life.
The cookbook, which is centered around her grandmother, will highlight who Maria Marano was and her journey from Sicily to upstate New York. The book will feature the most authentic Italian meals she cooked, including soups, breads, pizzas and one of the most meaningful recipes to their family – Sunday meatballs with red sauce.
“Thoughts of her are with me daily and I feel empowered being able to carry on her legacy,” says Michele. “She embodies empowerment, boldness and courage through fortitude. Watching her in everything she did, from running the family to creating these wonderful meals loved by everyone is truly empowerment.”
The book also showcases the deep connection Michele has to these recipes, her upbringing and her culture. Food has always been a big deal in her family, along with utilizing ingredients that nature provides us.
“Nani really pulled from nature, from the farm,” recalls Michele. “She would use lettuce and onions that she picked from the farm, natural mustard seed and even dandelion plants in her recipes.”
Most of Michele’s family has passed over the years, but she does plan to gift a few cookbooks to her remaining family, including her sister, her Aunt Mary and Aunt Mary’s son. However, Michele has a broader desire to share her book with others, noting that she’d like to sell this cookbook to the public.
Maria’s family was her primary love and Michele hopes others will find the love in her Nani’s recipes.
For the holidays, Michele can’t help but think about all the things she’s grateful for. When asked what she’d like to share with others who are thinking about making their own Heirloom cookbooks, Michele recommends commiting to the journey, taking your time and enjoying the moment.
This Thanksgiving, she plans to spend this year celebrating with her husband and friends, cherishing each moment and memory.
“It is through my memories of growing up along the countryside, surrounded by beautiful nature and the years spent with Nani, from childhood through young adulthood, that have inspired me in ways I perceive,” says Michele. “From food and cooking to painting and designing homes, I always reach back to those inspirational moments. I allow those memories to guide me. I am truly grateful for her. For Nani.”