Felicia (Ciaramitaro) Mohan grew up in a family surrounded by simmering pots of pasta and bubbling brews of tomato sauce, all created by mothers and grandmothers who never used a recipe.
Their style of cooking, straight from their memory, included a pinch of that ingredient, or a handful of another, and so on.
But two generations later, out of fear of losing these heirloom recipes forever, Mohan — at the urging of her husband, Barry — set out to make a cookbook for her twins, Amanda and BJ. She never imagined that the original scope of her project would grow exponentially.
Mohan’s cookbook, which reflects her deep-rooted Sicilian traditions, has become a series of four cookbooks, with the first to be released at the end of this month.
“When I started laying it out, I had no idea it would turn into the four books. I knew I had a lot but I didn’t realize how it would appear in a book format,” she said. “I have enough recipes for six or seven books all together, and that can happen after the series of four.”
The first book is titled “Gifts of Gold: In a Sicilian Kitchen with Sista Felicia.”
“It celebrates all things fall in the months of September, October, and November,” she said.
In addition to the recipes, the 256-page, hard-cover cookbook was designed to highlight the scenic beauty of Cape Ann with color glossy photographs, as well as how-to-photos and QR codes, which link the reader to Felicia’s online how-to videos on her website at www.sistafeliciaskitchen.com.
Her brother, Joseph Ciaramitaro, who runs the Good Morning Gloucester blog, said Felicia has become the contemporary link to the Old World Sicilian way of cooking in the Cape Ann community. His scenic photos accompany her food and how-to-photos. The book has close to 500 photographs.
Mohan explained that after she started sharing her memories and began cooking with her children, she was inspired to preserve the essence of the recipes for posterity.
“As family members started to die, and my kids got older,” she said, “I found myself always talking about times when I was growing up and I was cooking with my grandmother Felicia. I talked about the time of year as I prepared a dish. And the older the children got, I had a strong desire to share the stories and the dishes became more important.”
Mohan said she was flooded with questions and recipe requests after she started posting on the GoodMorningGloucester blog and in the Gloucester Daily Times about three years ago.
“I quickly realized that this idea was of interest to people far outside my family,” she said. “I thought that other people my age had these recipes and I was the one who was trying to put it all together. It was amazing to me how many people from my generation didn’t have them. Even people my grandparents’ age are stopping me to ask me for recipes. I thought they had these recipes because they would make this stuff. But they say they don’t always remember how to make these things.”
Mohan repeatedly had people ask her for a copy of a recipe — even her own family.
“That’s when the idea snowballed into creating a cookbook for others too. It went from a cookbook for my kids, then for my family and then for my community. Now it’s going way beyond that. I get emails from all over the country.”
Mohan explained that her “calendar year” for the cookbook series begins at the end of August because that is when the family harvested their gardens. The first book runs through Thanksgiving; book two runs from December through February; book three is spring-related, from March — including the celebration of St. Joseph’s Day — through June; and book four is June through August.
Gail McCarthy can be reached at 978-283-7000, x3445, or at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Kickstarter and Gala To learn more about the cookbook, "Gifts of Gold: In a Sicilian Kitchen with Sista Felicia," and to reserve a copy, visit www.Kickstarter.com. The cost is $40 for an unsigned first edition, and $50 for a signed first edition. The demand has been high, and she is working to find outlets for the book, so she said the best way to secure a book is through Kickstarter. Mohan has also put together a book launch party on Wednesday, Aug. 28 at Cruiseport Gloucester, when the book will unveiled. Those who pre-ordered can pick up their book at that time. Tickets for the gala are $35 and can be purchased online at Kickstarter, GoodMorningGloucester, and Sistafeliciaskitchen. Tickets can also be purchased at the GoodMorningGloucester tent at the weekly farmers' market or at the Gloucester Waterfront Festival this Saturday and Sunday.