The Lost Ravioli Recipes of Hoboken (Paperback)
A Search for Food and Family
W. W. Norton & Company, 9780393334234, 352pp.
Publication Date: October 1, 2008
James Beard Award-winning author Laura Schenone undertakes a quest to retrieve her great grandmother's ravioli recipe, reuniting with relatives as she goes. In lyrical prose and delicious recipes, Schenone takes the reader on an unforgettable journey from the grit of New Jersey's industrial wastelands and the fast-paced disposable culture of its suburbs to the dramatically beautiful coast of Liguria--the family's homeland--with its pesto, smoked chestnuts, torte, and, most beloved of all, ravioli, the food of celebration and happiness. Schenone discovers the persistent importance of place, while offering a perceptive voice on immigration and ethnicity in its twilight. Along the way, she gives us the comedies and foibles of family life, a story of love and loss, a deeper understanding of the bonds between parents and children, and the mysteries of pasta, rolled into a perfect circle of gossamer dough.
Conversation Starters from ReadingGroupChoices.com
- What is the significance of each of the three epigraphs at the beginning of the book? How do they relate to the entire work separately and together?
- Of her ravioli quest, Laura writes, "It began, as many journeys do, in a small way, with an inchoate yearning, a desire for something I only partly understood—perhaps just desire itself, hitting me amidst the sound of cars whooshing by my house on a busy suburban street. Desire rising up against my two sons asking for foods they could suck out of plastic tubes, for aqua blue cereals, for iridescent red strips of corn syrup–things that I am not certain can reasonably be termed 'food' but nonetheless are sold as such. Desire for an inner life where advertising could not reach." Have you ever shared any of these feelings? What do you think Schenone is really searching for, and how does her quest change as her journey unfolds?
- After reading this book, do you believe that recipes are worthy of attention in history? Do you have recipes in your family that are significant or that you can trace "back into history, further and further back, into an ancient past"?
- Laura begins her book with a prologue called "Myths of Origin," presenting a tale of a mason and a talking mushroom that somewhat resembles her own family story, except with a magical twist. Considering the role of myths in families and history, why do you think the author made this decision? How do mythologies work to enable and justify claims to heritage, land, and ethnicity?
- Laura asks after she goes to Italy, "Can a person feel connected to a place he or she has never been to before? Is it possible that we have origins inside us?" Have you ever felt this way about a place?
- Family takes many shapes in this book. How does Laura's search for authentic ravioli relate to her family relationships? How does Schenone's relationship with her father affect her search?
- "Chestnut was like a brother," says Sergio. "It's a good brother because it's yours. But like many brothers, you didn't choose it. Like a brother, it might not be the best brother but the one you have. You have to preserve it and take care of it." Some people, especially those in less developed parts of the world, feel a connection between themselves and the food they eat. Do you feel that way? Does modern life make it harder to be so connected?
- The culinary historian Giovanni Rebora says to Laura, "We don't worry so much about saving traditions. Traditions change all of the time. . . We want to save the culture of food here." What does he mean? Do you have any family traditions that have evolved over the years? What changes? What endures?
- From Salvatore's serenades to the final scenes of a tape of family members singing during holidays, music has an important place in the book. How does it relate to cooking and the act of storytelling?
- In Italy Laura writes, "It amazes us the way nature and civilization intertwine here. We are envious of such a place—aware of the void we Americans have without lack of history and traditions. And yet, we know that too much tradition brings suffocation, and burdens." How do you relate to the traditions you follow?
- What is the role of religion and faith in the search for ravioli? Why does the book end with a Catholic confession? Does Laura think that forgiveness is possible?
- The book ends with a question: "Could it be possible?" What is Laura referring to? In your opinion, was her quest and it's many journeys successful? Did she find what she was looking for?