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Strangers help woman decode her family's decades-old heirloom recipe in wholesome online interaction

Contardi found herself in a pickle when she couldn't understand a family recipe written in Italian cursive on old, crumpled paper and turned to the internet for help.

Strangers help woman decode her family's decades-old heirloom recipe in wholesome online interaction
Cover Image Source: Reddit / u/tashtash

Natasha Contardi of Montreal, Canada, has been on a mission to document her grandmother's recipes over the years. Under the guidance of her 88-year-old grandmother, whom she calls Nonna, Contardi has strived to get the "right feel and smell and learn the muscle memory." According to TODAY, she meticulously decodes the recipes to figure out how much handfuls of flour translates into standard measurements.

However, Contardi found herself in a pickle when she couldn't decipher a decades-old family recipe written in Italian cursive on old, crumpled paper. She could not make sense of what was written and showed it to her Nonna, who could not recognize it due to her dementia. Fortunately, the internet stepped in to save the day.

Image Source: Reddit / u/tashtash
Image Source: Reddit / u/tashtash

Contardi posted photos of the recipe on Reddit, hoping someone could help her translate it. Food historian and chef-owner of The Cultured Milkmaid bakery + creamery in Mexico, Rhiannon Gammill, recognized the word “serpentone,” or snake, and wondered if the family could be from Umbria, Italy, where the namesake pastry exists. Contardi responded they are from a nearby village called Pergola and that this recipe was handwritten by her grandmother’s sister-in-law, Rosa, many years ago. 

"Serpentone alle mandorle" is a very old recipe created in about 400 A.D. to commemorate Saint Anatolia’s escape from a serpent-based execution. Though the earliest use of this almond pastry was limited to Saint Anatolia’s feast day on July 10, these days, Serpentone is also eaten on many holidays, like Christmas or Passover.

Image Source: Reddit / u/tashtash
Image Source: Reddit / u/tashtash

Reddit user u/weriov deciphered the recipe into English, listing eggs, sugar, lemon, cocoa and almonds. u/middlemist-camellia shared details of the recipe in the Umbrian dialect, which is the Reddit user's native dialect. While this recipe has had many variations in cooking style over time, almonds and wheat stretch back as far as the dish's origin. Some other recipes include a wheat pastry with an egg and almond filling as well. They also garnish the Serpentone with candied almonds, sprinkles, coffee bean eyes and slivered almond teeth. 

Image Source: Reddit / u/weriov
Image Source: Reddit / u/weriov

 

Image Source: Reddit / u/middlemist-camellia
Image Source: Reddit / u/middlemist-camellia

Contardi revealed that her “giant” Italian family often cooks a big batch of special dishes together. But since the pandemic, the gathering size has “calmed down a bit” to only 20 to 25 people. Her family makes a point of including young children so that they learn the recipes and keep traditions and relationships alive. Contardi also has fond memories of her grandfather’s cooking, such as his home-preserved capicola and prosciutto.

Other Contardi family favorites include a cheesy yeast bread called Crescia di Pasqua, crostata with strawberry jam or marmalade, and Ciambelloni, a traditional breakfast Bundt cake, made with apples or pears. Contardi noted that the cooperative problem-solving on Reddit has sparked memories and conversations across many generations. “Food is the love language of our family,” she said, “My nonna put it in us.”

Image Source: Reddit / u/tashtash
Image Source: Reddit /u/tashtash

Many people in the comments praised Contardi for still keeping this age-old recipe for so long. "So glad you were able to bring back happy memories for grandma and bear witness to her being able to relive that aspect of her youth. You're a fine granddaughter," said u/LackSomber. "This is a great thing you are doing. Food is history. And old recipes especially are laced with historical and cultural meaning," added u/Mimidoo22. "This looks exactly like my Nonna's handwriting and the recipes written down on pieces of paper like this she would break out when she was baking. Not helpful here but just seeing this, my heart was filled with her memories. I hope you can make this dessert!" shared u/teeny_fagiolini.

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