My cousin Marianne and I are standing at the meat case in John’s Supermarket in Fort Kent. Our plan for that night’s supper is to make a spinach and sausage bread using one of the two packages of pizza dough we were able to locate at the bakery counter.
The evening’s menu grew when Marianne offered to make pizza, one of her specialties and then we figured why not make the bread since we had enough dough. Initially we had our doubts that we would find a ready made dough in Fort Kent and were delighted when, upon entering John’s and inquired, were told to ask at the bakery section located at the back of the store where pizzas are prepared. We find two packages of “store-made” ground Italian sausage in the meat case and thinking the label might be a commercial packing company ask a store employee who checks with the butcher and yes, it was made in John’s meat department.
That the sausage we would be using is made on the premises is as if a ribbon stretching from our family’s previous generation is tied around the 20 living grandchildren of Prospero and Carmela Francolino and pulled tight. A stretch perhaps, but the old familiar ways in childhood run deep. Visions of our grandparents grinding pork and spices together at their green enamel top table in the Florence Street kitchen is as vivid as it was 60 years ago when they combined the ingredients and pushed the mixture into a long casing, cut the rope into links, sauteed and plopped them into the stock pot of sauce to simmer for hours. Aunts and uncles and cousins came together Sunday dinners and the familiar aroma filled the kitchen like a Louis Prima tune.
Notwithstanding, more than one of the uncles would break off a hunk of grandma’s loaves cooling on the counter, and dip it into the sauce - not gravy, as it is called by those in New Jersey and depicted in The Sopranos. To the Francolino family sauce is sauce in whatever city in whatever state it simmers.
As it is with those of us who share an Italian heritage the desire to chop, stir, roll, saute, bake, broil is stamped in our DNA. The uncanny itch to stir a wooden spoon in a pot of homemade sauce surpasses generation and gender. Marianne and I are sketchy about the spinach and sausage bread and know that her brother, Billy, who makes mouth-watering dishes, including stuffed breads, and posts on our Cousins Facebook page, will help us and we put in a call to him in Meriden.
Back at the lake, Marianne stretches the dough for the pizza into the thinnest crust ever, brushes on olive oil, garnishes with thinly sliced ripe tomatoes that she brought to camp with her that were grown on a farm in Massachusetts, thin slices of pepperoni and parmesan. Before the pie is put on the grill we snap a picture that goes out to the cousins. The sausage meat is sauteed, fresh spinach piled on to wilt, garnished with parmesan, and when cooled spread across the remaining dough that is rolled into a loaf, spread with olive oil and before going into the oven, a picture is snapped. A photo goes out to the cousins with the sizzling pie, spinach and sausage spilling from the sliced bread on the table and as grandpa would call us, “Come Manga.”