Handing Down Food Traditions

Words by Gabriella RizzelloIllustration by May Simargool


I would like to paint you a little picture of my father’s roots.

In a tiny village named Cocumola at the southernmost point of Puglia there is a street called Via Primo Maggio. On this small street everyone bears my family name, Rizzello. My grandparents house lies in the middle, which is attached to my uncles house on the left and my fathers on the right. The gardens at the back are connected. My uncles side with a gate and on our side there are some steps to hop over the wall.

One of my earliest childhood memories was a sea of red, where hundreds upon hundreds of tomatoes lay on my grandparents garage floor. I used to imagine walking on them, squishing them with my feet. They made passata in their back garden with these tomatoes. Not with their feet, but with a mouli – a large pureeing mill. We’d watch over the wall as the sauce was being made, hoping we’d be eating pasta smothered in its freshness later that humid evening.

In 2012 I took my boyfriend, Murray, to visit my Italian family for the first time. We witnessed a very special moment, a married couple making passata together. Only this time it was in a different back garden. My auntie and uncle had started making passata after my grandparents passed away. It was as if I’d stepped back in time. At that moment everything felt so simple. Maybe it was being transported back to my childhood that made me feel like that. Or maybe it was the act of something so natural being performed by two people in love.

In 2010 my mother passed away unexpectedly. She ran a café in Bristol, where she cooked and baked all the food. She was most well-known for her massive, freshly baked cakes sold by the slice. My brother and I were very lucky to have beautiful meals cooked for us every evening.

Fours years on, I’ve only just realised why I’ve changed my profession from photography, to a career in food. When I take the cake I’ve baked out of the oven, the smell takes me back to the hustle and bustle of my mums kitchen and her night time baking marathons. When I’m slowly caramalising Boston beans on my hob, I’m reminded of the time Murray first met my mum and she presented them with braised lamb shank. When I’m cutting celery for my Bolognese, I remember how she started adding it to her tomato sauce so it tasted more like Auntie Teresa’s in Italy.

We re-live moments through food. Passing down food traditions to future generations is not just recipe sharing, it’s handing over our shared and cherished memories. My grandparents live on through their passata and my mum lives on through her chocolate fudge cake. And what could be better than that.

Handing Down Food Traditions was created by Food&_ community members:

May Simargool

May Simargool