Thumbing through Italian Cooking: the Definitive Encyclopedia of Fabulous Italian Food after dinner Thursday night, my son Eric spotted the Walnut and Ricotta Cake recipe on page 456. Like Julie Powell’s homage to Julia Child, Eric’s culinary adventures often embrace Fusco family traditions. Full-color photos of the ricotta cake looked temptingly similar to a cheesecake my mom used to make, so we scrambled through the kitchen ferreting out ingredients. We found ricotta in the freezer, but substituted lemon for orange rind, rum for brandy, and the last half-jar of Eric’s superb 2008 batch of homemade raspberry jam for apricot jelly.
With three of us working—my husband David helped, too—whisking egg whites, grating lemon rind, and shaving chocolate took merely minutes. Eric was soon folding stiffened egg whites into buttery, walnut-studded batter.
At this point, we noticed that the recipe called for a “9-inch round, loose-based cake tin.” Eyeballing the lemony batter, I knew my only cheesecake pan was too small to hold it. Why hadn’t I kept Mom’s large one?
On Father’s Day 2009, at David’s request, the three of us had rummaged through the basement, disgorging our house of items David and I had misguidedly grabbed while emptying our parents’ homes. Stumbling across a stack of Mom’s tart, torte, cheesecake, and bundt pans, I struggled against my desire to hoard them. How much baking should I be doing now anyway? Weren’t many of my friends dieting, diabetic, or eating healthfully to prevent heart disease? These dessert pans had to go, and, if I were smart, I’d toss Mom’s recipes, also.
The recipe cards bore Mom’s loopy handwriting and fanciful capitalization, so I left them, unsorted, in their cardboard box. But I stuffed the dessert pans into a giveaway bag and shoved it, with other extraneous items, into the trunk of my car.
Looking at the lemony batter, I remembered something else. Father’s Day falls on a Sunday: the thrift store had been closed. Monday morning, I’d opened the trunk, groped through the bag, and retrieved Mom’s glass-bottom, spring-form pan. I found it where I’d left it, on a basement closet shelf.
Back in the kitchen, I released the spring and freed the pan’s bottom to wash it. Two golden crumbs from the last cheesecake Mom had made fell onto my kitchen counter. I pressed a fingertip onto the crumbs, lifted them up, and fought the desire to once again taste my mom’s cooking.
That déjà vu moment came later, after Eric slid the puffy Walnut and Ricotta Cake from the oven, let it cool, glazed it with raspberry jam, and topped it with chocolate shavings. Sitting at our kitchen table under our chandelier’s yellow light, I felt as though more than three of us savored this moment together.